The Fort Lee Police Department set up a pedestrian decoy cop at the busy intersection of Hudson Terrace and Central Road Friday morning to enforce their pedestrian safety initiative.
"One struck pedestrian is one too many," Fort Lee Deputy Police Chief Tim Ford told Patch. Which is why Fort Lee is participating in the Department of Highway and Traffic Safety's 'Cops in Crosswalks' Decoy Program this spring. Fort Lee received a $15,000 grant to fund the cost of paying police officers who participate in the program--from decoys to ticket writers.
Drivers who failed to stop to allow the decoy cop to cross at the pedestrian crosswalk were asked to pull over where they were issued a traffic violation that carries a fine of $230 and adds two points onto their driver's license.
"We're just trying to save lives one pedestrian at a time," said Officer Antonio Hernandez.
Within the first 15 minutes that decoy officer Vincent Buda crossed the pedestrian crosswalk, 12 cars were pulled over. When asked if they knew why they were pulled over, every driver said that they did not.
One of the drivers who was pulled over, Krishna Venkatesh, said he never even realized that there was a flashing yellow light and asked if it was new.
"I travel this road three times a week," Venkatesh said. "Aren't pedestrian crosswalks also supposed to have 'pedestrian crossing' cones in the middle of the crosswalk as well?" he asked.
One man, who did not wish to give his name, said that he was on his way to take his 81-year old father to the doctor. "I had no idea why I was being pulled over," he said. "I just want to get my dad to the doctor.
Missing a few close calls with cars as he made his way back and forth across the street, Buda said, "When it comes down to you and a two-ton car, you have no chance."
In January, a 65-year old Fort Lee man, Gerard A. Deangelis, was struck and killed as he was crossing Anderson Avenue on his way to Madonna Church. This was in additon to the four pedestrian fatalities that occurred in 2012, and the more than 60 pedestrians who were struck by cars while walking.
Deangelis's family sent a letter dated April 4 to Mayor Mark Sokolich and Police Chief Keith Bendul. The letter states that although the family "applauds" the recognition of the problem regarding pedestrian safety, they feel that the proposed initiatives are "inadequate, misguided and ineffective."
The family feels that the focus of law enforcement should be on distracted drivers. It is their position that Fort Lee's police presence should be "stepped up" by focusing on those who violate the traffic laws in Fort Lee.
Both Chief Bendul and Deputy Chief Ford said that they are also focusing on drivers who do not obey the traffic laws, which is why they are participating in the 'Cops in Crosswalks' program.
"We're addressing the problem from every possible angle," Ford said. "We are trying to educate pedestrians to safety issues while at the same time enforce traffic laws."
Ford also said that the Fort Lee Police will be conducting the decoy 'Cops in Crosswalks' program throughout the spring.
"We're going to focus on pedestrian-heavy areas like houses of worship and schools," Ford said. "With Little League season right around the corner, we also want to focus our attention to Whitey Lang Field on Anderson Avenue which is heavily trafficked by both cars and pedestrians during ball games," he added.
One female driver who was issued a ticket, but did not want to give her name, said, "[Hudson Terrace] is like Route 4. Why they would have a pedestrian crosswalk here is just crazy."