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Police act for safety

Some motorists feel entrapped after 31 citations are issued
by: City of Lake Oswego, 
 Officer Julia Warren was a pedestrian “decoy,” who walked across A Avenue and Fifth Street.

Last Thursday, Lake Oswego police wrote 31 citations to motorists near the intersection of A Avenue and Fifth Street.

Some drivers called it a 'sting,' and said they felt it was a case of police entrapment.

But police said the citations went to motorists who clearly broke the law.

Lake Oswego Police Lt. Douglas Treat said A Avenue and Fifth Street has a history of close calls and accidents between pedestrians and cars.

That prompted Treat to organize the Feb. 28 pedestrian safety event, which caught motorists not stopping for a pedestrian attempting to use the crosswalk.

Treat said he was surprised at how many motorists blew through the crosswalk without recognizing a pedestrian 'decoy' working for the police.

'It's shocking how many vehicles had the opportunity to respond to the pedestrian and chose not to,' he said. 'They were either distracted, inattentive or just didn't care they went through the crosswalk.'

Leona Van-Haslingen was on her way to a Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce event, heading east on A Avenue. She went through the A and Fifth crosswalk without noticing the decoy had attempted to begin to cross.

She was cited and fined $242.

'I feel so violated,' said Van-Haslingen. 'I would swear on a stack of Bibles I never saw any person in the crosswalk.'

Treat arranged three police officers to work as 'spotters,' as drivers approached the intersection. In addition, there were two motorcycle and two patrol officers.

Police gave out citations for failure to stop for a pedestrian at a crosswalk or failure to remain stopped for a pedestrian at a crosswalk.

Police used orange cones to mark the spot where drivers needed to stop for the decoy, about 200 feet from the crosswalk. If drivers failed to stop ahead of the 200-foot mark, they were cited.

'We were not trying to entrap anyone or set someone up for failure,' he said.

Police put notices on sandwich boards the day before the enforcement action, noting the day and hours of the event on the 28th. In addition, they ran notices in the city's publication 'Hello L.O.'

They also notified area media. The Review ran a story on Jan. 24, although the event, originally planned for Jan. 30, was postponed to Feb. 28 due to the possibility of snow on Jan. 30.

Treat came up with the idea after the city's Nov. 22 Holiday Tree Lighting at the A Avenue Safeway. He noticed an alarming number of cars failing to stop for pedestrians at the intersection of A and Fifth, in front of the 7-Eleven.

'I recognized we had a huge issue with that intersection,' he said.

Just before Christmas a pedestrian was struck at the intersection. That happened again in mid-February, and in both cases the pedestrians were injured and taken to a hospital.

Treat said many drivers focus on only looking for other cars, not for pedestrians and cyclists. 'Then,' he said, 'you throw in cell phones, car stereos, passengers, kids in the backseat and trying to read the GPS. Drivers are so overloaded.'

One driver who received a citation last week during the enforcement operation, who asked to remain anonymous, said she thought she was doing everything right when a motorcycle officer pulled her over.

'I was thinking 'What could I have possibly done?'' she said. 'If there had been a pedestrian in the crosswalk, I would have stopped for them. It's polite and it's the law.'

Rather than handing out $242 citations, police should have issued warnings, she said.

'I don't disagree with the Lake Oswego Police Department's prerogative to run a maneuver like that,' she added.

She said she would like to see the videotape showing her in violation. Treat said he can provide the tape and will show it to anyone who requests it.

Treat said some of those ticketed will be eligible to take a driver's safety class and get the fine and citation dismissed.

For Van-Haslingen, the enforcement action left her feeling 'framed.'

'I'm really afraid to drive in downtown Lake Oswego now,' she said. 'This ruins the enjoyment of being in the city.'

Treat said he sees it differently, and defended the pedestrian safety action as a way to save lives.

'If there's one less pedestrian hit, then we've done our jobs,' he said.