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Originally published January 1, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 1, 2008 at 6:48 PM

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Notorious for I-5 speed traps, Coburg police clean up their act

For years, the police department in this small town off Interstate 5 was notorious for its aggressive highway speed traps that ensnared...

The Associated Press

COBURG, Ore. — For years, the police department in this small town off Interstate 5 was notorious for its aggressive highway speed traps that ensnared hundreds of drivers.

Once, aggressive motorcycle patrols of the interstate supplied nearly half of Coburg's $1.7 million municipal budget.

But now, the department is finally getting some good publicity.

The agency received a glowing evaluation this fall from Coburg's risk-management firm.

Its new patrol car design recently graced the cover of "Law and Order" magazine after winning an international contest.

And it appears to slowly be making good on a 2005 city pledge to wean Coburg off freeway traffic fines as a city money-maker, even though such tickets still account for two-thirds of all citations by Coburg officers.

The Coburg speed trap, which prompted statewide legislation, wasn't the police department's only problem.

Former city administrator-police chief Mike Hudson resigned amid a funding shortfall caused by a major miscalculation of the city

s assets.

An audit by the city's risk management firm revealed dozens of deficiencies in police department operations.

Among the problems identified: security problems with evidence storage, confidential records and police department computers; inadequate training for regular and reserve officers; inadequate policies regarding discretion, citations, arrests, and search and seizure; and storage of ammunition in a nonsecure area.

Three years later, despite losing half of the police department's personnel due to a city budget shortfall, new Police Chief John Bosley has corrected most of the problems, according to an audit.

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The police department also got some recent praise from "Law and Order" magazine, which chose Coburg's new cruiser as grand prize winner in its 2007 international police vehicle design contest.

The cover of the police management journal's August issue featured one of the cars, with the familiar silhouette of the Coburg Hills as a backdrop.

Meanwhile, the department's I-5 ticketing continues to taper off.

Coburg's income from traffic fines and bails dropped from a high of $774,000 in 2003-04 to $359,850 in 2006-07.

At that rate, Coburg would generate about $324,000 in revenue about 30 percent of the city

s $1.1 million general fund budget.

That's still far above the statewide average of about 4 percent, according to a 2004 survey of 69 municipalities by the League of Oregon Cities.

Only six cities surveyed relied on traffic funds for more than 10 percent of their budgets.

An analysis of dispatch records since the July 1 beginning of the 2007-2008 year shows that Coburg police issued 333 citations as of Dec. 18.

Bosley said the city has a legitimate safety interest in patrolling the freeway, used by some 3,000 workers to come to work for RV manufacturing plants and other major employers here.

But state Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Eugene Democrat who twice introduced bills aimed at crimping Coburg

s freeway ticket revenue stream, called the percentage of freeway tickets disappointing.

Prozanski said it's poor public policy to rely on citations as a primary funding source because ticketing decisions can be influenced by "the city's need to pay salaries."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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