On the traffic beat

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Officer Alan Roman is gunning for you.

But if you’re driving safely and within the speed limit, you have no worries.

A member of the Colorado Springs Police Department’s motorcycle brigade, called the motor unit, Roman aims a radar gun at traffic — and in some cases a laser — that reads your speed with pinpoint accuracy.

Either way, he’ll nail you if you’re going a certain amount over the speed limit, a grace gap we won’t reveal so those with a heavy foot don’t push their luck.

Suffice to say, the motorists who have a face-to-face with Roman are going very fast.

As a 28-year veteran of CSPD, Roman is the longest-serving member of the 20-officer motor unit, logging 22 years in traffic enforcement. During those years, he’s seen it all.

He’s clocked numerous drivers hurtling down Interstate 25 at 100 mph or more. He’s observed drivers eating, putting on makeup and reading a book while operating a vehicle. Using a cell phone is the most common distraction, he says.

One street race involved a Tesla and Audi that reached speeds up to 117 mph — on North Carefree Circle.

The type of vehicle he spots going too fast matters not.

“I’ve pulled over a McLaren and I’ve pulled over cars held together with Scotch tape, it seems like,” he says from his SUV’s cockpit on a day in December as he gave a reporter and photographer a sense of his typical day as a traffic enforcer.

When he pulled over a Smart Car some time back, he says, the driver “swore up and down, ‘My car won’t go that fast.’”

Getting equipped

Our day began by strapping on bulletproof vests, just in case a stop went bad. That’s intimidating, to say the least. We also signed papers relieving CSPD of responsibility should the unthinkable happen.

Roman was decked out in 23 pounds of gear, including his body camera, radio, handcuffs, protective vest, gun, Taser and other equipment.

While traffic enforcement is largely handled by the motor unit, due to motorcycles’ maneuverability, the Chevy Tahoe was chosen to accommodate his guests on this particular day.

Like other patrol vehicles, the SUV was tricked out with a laptop showing the city’s CAD system, (computer assisted dispatch), a panel of buttons that control lights and siren, a printer the size of a large sandwich that shoots out paper citations, and even six orange cones in the back seat.

Roman was chosen to chaperone us, I later learn, due to his vast experience, not only in traffic enforcement, but also in community outreach. He works with high school kids on driving safety, for example, using “drunk driving” goggles that depict the impaired state alcohol creates. He also conducts workshops for proper child car-seat usage and spends time with Fort Carson soldiers briefing them on how Colorado Springs traffic laws might differ from those in other places.

But here’s another quality that recommends Roman to serve as a guide on behalf of CSPD: He’s a no-nonsense cop who feels a sense of duty to the community.

Wearing a stocking cap on this chilly day, Roman speaks softly, measuring his words, and he seems unflappable, even as a speeding vehicle bears down on the Tahoe while he’s making a U-turn to pursue a violator.

A Pueblo native, he hails from a family of law enforcement officers. His brother is with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a cousin works narcotics for the Pueblo Police Department and another cousin serves in patrol for Denver Police Department, from which his uncle plans to retire next year. There are others in the business as well.

Unlike the stereotypical menacing and brawny cop, Roman is of average height and build and makes a point of being courteous.

Every stop he made during the day was met with an apology or an acknowledgment from drivers that they were in the wrong.

His approach is straightforward but gentle for a reason, he says.

“I try to keep it very formal. ‘Sir or ma’am, I stopped you today for whatever the violation might be,’” he says. “My aim is to get them back on their way.”

He wants the exchange to be as courteous as possible, because, “For the vast majority of people, the only contact they have with police is a traffic stop,” he says.

“How we treat these people can definitely color their view [of police]. For a lot of people, it’s a stressful situation. I want to leave them with a positive interaction. They leave with a feeling the officer treated them well. We’re just regular people like they are.”

Officer Alan Roman uses tuning forks to calibrate his radar gun, a practice performed before every shift.

On the street

During stakeouts on  , North Circle Drive, Barnes Road and Powers Boulevard, Roman didn’t try to obscure his presence. In three of four spots, he simply pulled over to the curb. Even with high visibility, he still found no shortage of speeders.

And just so you know, the radar gun and laser reader are more or less backup to prove an officer’s own estimate of driver speed. Roman says officers are trained to judge speeds with reasonable accuracy; the other tools just prove them right.

“We’re identifying by visual and confirming with radar,” he says.

Officers can also clock your speed coming at them or traveling away from them, as well as driving past them.

Roman reports that some drivers try to argue a radio transmitter tower in some particular area skews the radar’s results, but those towers operate on different frequencies, he says.

Oh, and radar guns and lasers are tested at the beginning of the day, as well as after every stop to make sure they’re operating correctly.

On Hancock, he didn’t have to wait long for a speeder.

Parked in a turnoff near some trees, Roman pulls out the Stalker II radar gun and points it at oncoming traffic. Bingo. He nails a gray Honda Civic going 53 in a 40 mph zone, driven by a 20-year-old woman, who, she tells the officer, was running late getting to work. But she was “very nice” and “very cooperative,” he says.

That’s how most, but not all, drivers react, he says.

Some people are vicious in arguing about the infraction. “I tell them this isn’t the time or place for that,” he says. “If they want to dispute a ticket, they have that option [in court].”

And then there are those who think their position in society protects them from a citation. More than once, he’s stopped a VIP.

In one case, a nun he stopped for speeding told Roman she personally knew the chief of police and would have his badge and job. He ticketed her anyway, and, well, he’s still on the job.

“I don’t like to pick and choose who gets a ticket,” he says. “I try to do it as a matter of fairness.”

Which is why drivers shouldn’t look for a warning from Roman. He issues those only in “extreme circumstances,” such as a driver rushing to get his pregnant wife to the hospital in time.

Here’s his philosophy: “I understand people driving over the speed limit here or there. We’re looking for the more excessive speeds, running red lights, the tragic-causing driving behaviors. If I’m pursuing them through traffic, then it’s warranted they get that ticket.”

While two cars were street racing on Powers some time ago, weaving in and out of traffic, one clipped a car, causing a chain reaction crash that claimed the life of a driver “who had nothing to do with it. They were just driving down the road,” he says.

Roman says that while some people become difficult, he draws his weapon only if someone is “very uncooperative” or he identifies a weapon in the vehicle.

One driver elicited a “hands on” response after he blasted through an intersection near a high school, Roman recalls. “He fought a little,” he says, but a patrol officer showed up and easily arrested him for not having a driver’s license, DUI and speeding.

‘I apologize’

As for sections of the city where you’re safer from crazy drivers, forget that, he says.

“As this town has grown, there really isn’t a part of town that’s more hazardous.”

Even when the overhead directional signs on I-25 are lit up with warnings of a traffic enforcement operation in progress, “We still have no problem” finding speeders, he says.

During the COVID pandemic, the unit didn’t work traffic as much to avoid contact with other people, and Roman has noticed an uptick in aggressive behavior since then. He’s also seen more vehicles in recent years pull over, only to speed away and try to elude officers.

“Some people jump out and come over yelling and screaming at me,” he says. “It happens a lot more frequently now, two or three times a month. That’s just the way it is. It’s something we have to deal with.”

‘I don’t like to pick and choose who gets a ticket. I try to do it as a matter of fairness.’— Alan Roman

Back on Hancock, Roman nails a vehicle going 52 in a 40 mph zone. The female driver acknowledges she was speeding.

Later, on North Circle, Roman nabs a driver going 49 in a 35 mph zone. The driver was in a rush to grab lunch and get back to work.

On Barnes, Roman, parked at the curb in plain view, snagged a Ford Fusion going 56 in a 35 mph zone. A ticket for 20 mph or more beyond the speed limit carries a mandatory court appearance and stiffer fines.

The female driver was “very apologetic,” Roman says. “She’s got a lot going on in her life. She’s very stressed out.”

Out on Powers, Roman pulls out his laser reader this time. Within minutes, he marks a Toyota Corolla at 72 mph in a 55 mph zone. The driver’s first words? “I apologize,” Roman recaps.

While our shift yielded only five tickets, a normal day will see a motor unit cop issue two to three per hour.

The motor unit, which uses Harley-Davidson and BMW motorcycles, is viewed as an elite assignment. But they’re not immune from danger, since many drivers aren’t alert to motorcycles in traffic.

Motor unit officer Matt Tyner, 42, was killed in 2012 while in pursuit of a speeder when a truck pulled out in front of him. There was nothing he could do.

As we wind down our assignment, we pull up to a stoplight. After a few seconds, Roman lowers the driver’s window. A driver next to him shouts out a “thank you.”

“We really appreciate you guys,” she adds.

“Here in the Springs,” Roman says, obviously happy with the feedback, “we’re fortunate. I hear that more often than the negative stuff. It reinforces that we have a good relationship with the community as a whole.”

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