It's all in the details
July 23, 2007 6:28 PM   Subscribe

Why do they have police construction details everywhere in New England and few if any in other parts of the US?

In any New England village or highway, if there is any kind of road construction going on there is usually a cop sitting in his/her car getting paid over/double time just to be there. You go to other parts of the country and you can see massive road construction projects with no police presence whatsoever.

I know Mitt Romney tried unsucessfully to eliminate police details while he was Governor of Massachusetts. What is the origin of the police detail and why can Utah get along without them?
posted by Xurando to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total)
There were a number of construction workers killed during snowy collisions in Connecticut I think in the 90's and the families of the workers lobbied for the police presence at construction sites. Plus, the traffic fines double in construction zones, so the math makes sense...
posted by SpecialK at 6:50 PM on July 23, 2007

1) Accidents are more likely to happen where the road is being worked on (because markings are less clear, because workers move around instead of holding still like street signs, because traffic stops and starts). Having a cop there reminds everyone to be careful, and if something does happen they can clear it up quickly.

2) The fines for speeding, etc., in a work zone are often higher. Revenue is often on the minds of politicians.
posted by anaelith at 6:52 PM on July 23, 2007

New Jersey just about always has at least one cop at just about every piece of road construction ever. New England and New Jersey have a lot of people. Jersey is, in fact, the most densely populated state in the US. More cars passing = more potential problems. Utah has considerably less people density. Cops at road construction sites is a good thing.
posted by knowles at 6:55 PM on July 23, 2007

This is most certainly the case in Honolulu. The blue lights sure seem to help slow down traffic (and contribute, ostensibly, to overall safety), but other than that, it's always seemed a bit goofy to me, too.

Random story: Earlier this year there was a massive freeway shutdown after a crane hit an overpass. There were police stationed everywhere, and it took almost twelve hours for things to get cleaned up.

It was only after everyone left did someone notice a civilian pickup truck still sitting on the side of the road, practically in the middle of all the hubbub. Inside, a dead man.

The driver had apparently pulled over and had a heart attack, expiring sometime earlier in the afternoon. It was a TV news cameraman zooming in from a nearby bridge that signaled that something was wrong. With all the cops swarming the area, it was odd for them all to miss that little detail!
posted by pzarquon at 7:16 PM on July 23, 2007

I agree with the other theories on why they do it (political pressure from the construction workers and their unions, and the revenue opportunities afforded by increased fines in construction zones, principally), and just wanted to point out that it's also common in other heavily-trafficked areas, such as parts of Pennsylvania and Northern VA.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:21 PM on July 23, 2007

police union contracts, so that they can make more money
posted by kanemano at 7:25 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've never seen this. If they did it in Calgary they could easily have 3/4 of the force on pothole repair surveillance duty.
posted by watsondog at 7:27 PM on July 23, 2007

This is common in Toronto as well, but often it's a beat cop just standing there - no car in sight, no opportunity for traffic fines. You could argue they are there for safety reasons, but I've never seen them stop anybody from ignoring a "sidewalk closed" sign or narrowly skirting an open pit. (Okay, by "anybody" I mean "me," but the point holds.)
posted by Urban Hermit at 7:39 PM on July 23, 2007

I noticed it in Pennsylvania as well. At least for construction on the freeways, there was always a cop car with its lights on. I think it's pretty simple: the cop's presence will cause traffic to slow down and people to pay attention in a way that nothing else would. Probably also prevents jerks from throwing things at the workers (which apparently is a real problem in California).
posted by Emanuel at 8:11 PM on July 23, 2007

In Arizona, they require an officer be present on any closed on/off-ramp during construction.

They do get time and a half, but they're off-duty cops.

No idea why, though. Safety, presence, etc sound about right.
posted by disillusioned at 8:13 PM on July 23, 2007

Heh. If somebody offered to pay you to stand around at a construction site and chitchat with your friends all day would you object? It's not a police detail as much as a 10 hour break.

And the Boston Police Department is probably one of the most secretive and closeknit armed organizations in the world. They take care of their own. Most politicians don't dare take them on, even for extremely obvious wastes of tax dollars.
posted by nixerman at 8:58 PM on July 23, 2007

In Maine, if you look closely, those blue sedans with blue flashing lights often say SECURITY on the side, rather than POLICE. The difference in the paint jobs is subtle, but there. Private security firms doing the work, but painted up to look like The Fuzz.
posted by anastasiav at 9:21 PM on July 23, 2007

In Seattle, long-term building construction in high-traffic areas sometimes have a uniformed officer on duty for traffic control . During the construction of the new Seattle Public Library's central library, an older officer was tasked with this duty, which (during the times I saw him) consisted of opening and closing the main gate and directing traffic when large trucks were entering and exiting the site. My idea was that this was the officer's last assignment before retirement, though I'm not at all sure about that.
posted by lhauser at 10:14 PM on July 23, 2007

We do it in Georgia
posted by prjo at 4:26 AM on July 24, 2007

California just had to close a road under construction due to the road rage it was provoking. I don't remember it being this way in Maine from the 80s through 96 or so but anastasiav's comment says they are there now, which means it was a mid to late 90s thing. SpecialK's reason is at the right time then.
posted by jwells at 4:58 AM on July 24, 2007

Illinois has obsolete State Patrol squad cars they park in strategic places as a deterrent, and Chicago has experimented with speed traps in work zones, with a "surveyor crew" wielding a radar gun and a squad down the road a ways.
posted by dhartung at 6:12 AM on July 24, 2007

It's very common in Texas.
posted by popechunk at 7:24 AM on July 24, 2007

It's very common in Texas.

Yeah, I'm in Austin and I see it all the time.
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:18 AM on July 24, 2007

I've seen it in Calgary when the work encompasses a significant detour involving a freeway.
posted by Mitheral at 4:39 AM on July 29, 2007

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