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Back to Archives | Back to March 2009 Contents 

Irvine’s Area Traffic Officer Program

By David L. Maggard Jr., Chief of Police; and Daniel Jung, Special Assistant to the Chief of Police, Irvine, California

ach day law enforcement personnel are charged with the challenge and the primary responsibility of addressing crime-related issues. However, addressing traffic-related concerns is increasingly challenging because of dwindling municipal budgets, competing resources, and rising crime rates. As a result, many law enforcement agencies are finding it difficult to address traffic management issues, if they are able to at all. Recently, the Irvine, California, Police Department launched an area traffic officer (ATO) program as an extension of its highly successful geographic policing strategy.

Anywhere in the United States, a city’s future prosperity and favorable business climate can be sustained only if a city is able to maintain an efficient and safe circulation system—especially during times of economic instability. The ease with which motorists can move about in a safe manner is an important attribute of a prosperous and livable community. An effective and workable circulation network, along with a variety of transportation choices, encourages the efficient movement of goods and services, as well as people. For many communities, maximizing traffic flow continues to be an important issue.

Many jurisdictions have already adopted comprehensive plans for reducing traffic delays, while other cities have invested in the purchase of new traffic control systems and upgraded signal software programs. Although the use of live video traffic management centers and the installation of new signal hardware operated by advanced software programs are obvious steps in the right direction, they are not the cure-all for resolving chronic circulation issues that tend to be unpredictable as impatient drivers continually search for alternatives.

In a recent resident satisfaction survey taken in Irvine, virtually all residents (99 percent) indicated they felt safe while shopping; 92 percent felt safe visiting a park or recreation facility; and 89 percent felt safe walking alone in their neighborhood after dark. On the other hand, the same poll revealed that residents frequently mentioned mobility/vehicle circulation as a “top concern” and a “priority.”

The city of Irvine, which recently became the third most populous city in Orange County (behind Santa Ana and Anaheim), has 1,745 road miles and is expected to grow steadily over the next four years as the city continues to reach its build-out population. In the year 2012, Irvine is expected to have 1,959 roadway miles (figure 1), and today’s population will grow from 209,806 residents to 279,000 by year 2035 (build-out).

Figure 1. Over the next four years, lane miles in Irvine
are forecast to increase by 214, or about 12 percent.

Factors to Consider

In response to the growth trend and the expectations of the community at large, the Irvine Police Department (IPD) assessed the feasibility of establishing an ATO program by taking the following factors into consideration:

  • Identifying and resolving traffic problems through a single point of contact

  • Increased monitoring of areas of concern

  • Building close-knit relationships with community residents, business owners, and school administrators

  • Establishing proactive, long-term solutions that take into consideration input from other city departments and key personnel

  • Exploring innovative methods of moving vehicles more effectively through the city in a safe and efficient manner

  • Affirming a commitment to increasing reliable two-way communication, which the community expects from its local government

Figure 2. The three geographic policing
areas covered by IPD ATOs

Recognizing that the issue of circulation needed to be addressed from a proactive public safety standpoint, the IPD established the ATO program consistent with the department’s geographic policing strategy, established in 2003. This new and innovative traffic program is aimed at implementing problem-solving strategies with an emphasis on long-lasting solutions.

Each of the three ATOs is responsible for investigating and resolving complex traffic-related issues in his or her respective geographic area. Currently, the IPD has divided the city of Irvine into three distinct geographic policing areas (Crossroads, Portola, and University; see figure 2). The ATOs work hand-in-hand with area motor officers, patrol officers, traffic engineers, land use planners, and key personnel from the Irvine Public Works Department to address traffic issues in a comprehensive and collaborative manner.

Role of the ATOs

Presently, the ATOs are assigned to four year rotations to enhance their understanding of the community while allowing them to focus their attention on particular areas of concern. These officers serve both to complement and to bolster Irvine’s geographic policing strategy by opening a direct line of communication with residents, school administrators, parents, and business leaders to develop proactive and sustainable solutions to traffic issues.

Prior to the implementation of this program, circulation-related complaints and inquiries would be routed in an informal manner to the city manager’s office, the chief of police, the watch commander, officers in the field, or the IPD’s front desk. The lack of a centralized point of contact soon became a challenge in responding to concerns in a timely, efficient, and personal manner consistent with the core values of community-based policing.

Challenges of a Livable Community

As previously noted, a prosperous and livable community is tied directly to an effective and workable circulation network. Much of the credit for Irvine’s success as a nationally recognized “master-planned community” is attributable to the strength and the adaptability of the city’s diverse business community.

However, Irvine’s employment base of approximately 268,000 workers (generating approximately 230,000 internal and external vehicular trips) represents its own unique set of transit challenges, as most workers use personal vehicles to travel to work. The inevitable task of the ATOs is to work with the business community to reduce the impact that workers’ vehicles have on the city’s circulation system.

Making this task even more challenging are the bisecting of Irvine by two major north-south interstate freeways (Interstates 405 and 5) and the hundreds of rail passengers who arrive and depart on a daily basis via the Irvine and Tustin Amtrak Stations.

In addition to the business community’s effects on local traffic, Irvine is served by two school districts that together operate 23 elementary schools, five middle schools, five comprehensive high schools, and one continuation high school with a combined student population of 28,500. With thousands of kindergarteners through 12th-graders arriving and departing from schools during weekdays, ATOs are challenged with the task of resolving another host of distinct circulation and safety issues.

Finally, it should be noted that the city is home to three major universities and a community college: University of California–Irvine; Concordia University; California State University, Fullerton (South County Campus); and Irvine Valley College. Today, approximately 43,300 college students (not including faculty and staff) attend classes in Irvine, most of whom arrive and depart using their personal vehicles.

Proven Results

School Safety: Several improvements to existing school parking/loading areas have been implemented to enhance the overall safety of students, parents, teachers, and staff while maximizing traffic flows to and from school locations. To date, ATOs, working with school administrators and parents, have significantly improved the safety of many Irvine schools by determining the need for additional crosswalks and revised access plans. They have also determined the need for added speed limit and cautionary signage.

Since the implementation of the program, several new school campuses for kindergarten through 12th grade have opened. ATOs have worked collaboratively with school administrators, land use planners, and traffic engineers to help develop traffic management plans to optimize student arrival and departure zones and further improve student safety. Identifying intelligent traffic solutions at the onset of the planning process has resulted in an overall improvement to school safety.

Abandoned Vehicles: ATOs also address abandoned vehicles in the city, which, if not addressed, can quickly become unsightly and serve as targets for vandalism and other criminal activity. In most cases, these officers can rely on the California Vehicle Code or Irvine’s municipal code to remove abandoned vehicles in a timely manner. Once a subject vehicle is towed, the ATO notifies the reporting party. To date, reaction from the public has been quite positive, as complaints are handled expeditiously.

Retail Centers: ATOs work closely with major retail shopping centers and business owners to improve internal circulation issues, including speeding vehicles and egress/ingress movements. Working in cooperation with the city engineer and business owners, officers address safety issues through enhanced directional signage and increased parking enforcement.

Construction Traffic: As Irvine continues to grow, residential, commercial, and industrial construction is an inevitable and familiar part of the city’s landscape. Construction often leads to commuter delays, commuter frustration, and a general negative impact on a city’s circulation system. For these reasons, ATOs work well ahead of development projects in collaboration with construction superintendents to develop plans to address such issues as the delivery of building supplies, truck routes, roadway closures, detour barriers, roadway excavation, and appropriate construction signage.

Residential Traffic: ATOs also address the traffic-related concerns of the city’s 209,806 residents. It should be noted that Irvine has approximately 74,500 dwelling units, one regional park, 18 community parks, 35 neighborhood parks, and 4,000 acres of designated open space.

Prevalent concerns expressed by residents and homeowner associations are issues associated with speed enforcement. In response, the ATOs frequently deploy radar speed boards throughout the city (figure 3). These mobile trailers post the legal speed limit and inform drivers of the speed at which they are traveling. Each geographic area has its own speed trailer that is in continual use, and its placement is evaluated by the ATO charged with that geographic area. The mobile trailers generally have a positive impact and, to date, have been well received and appreciated by the community. They are typically used in conjunction with traditional enforcement methods, including the issuance of speeding citations.

Figure 3. Irvine mobile radar speed board
Photo by Daniel Jung


Chiefs should keep in mind that although it certainly makes the most sense to implement an ATO program within an established geographic policing structure, there is no reason it cannot be implemented as a stand-alone program. As other agencies contemplate establishing such a program, they should take into consideration the simple fact that it can greatly improve communications with the community at large and proactively identify and resolve traffic-related concerns. Simply put, from a law enforcement perspective, the benefits of establishing an ATO program far outweigh those of the traditional approach of addressing traffic management issues.

Secondly, establishing such a program can result in alleviating existing law enforcement resources. For example, the IPD’s three area commanders were previously assigned to resolve chronic circulation issues; now, they have time to address their primary responsibilities while ATOs focus exclusively on traffic-related inquiries.

Last but certainly not least, it bears noting that since the inception of Irvine’s program, traffic accidents have decreased by 6 percent. A program that improves safety and communication while reducing the strain on law enforcement resources should be viewed as a success by any measure. ?   

David L. Maggard Jr. was appointed chief of police for the City of Irvine in September 2003. During his law enforcement career, Chief Maggard has worked as a police trainer, narcotics officer, community policing officer, crime prevention specialist, and bomb technician apprentice. He is the immediate past president of the Orange County Chiefs of Police and Sheriff’s Association and currently serves as a board member of the California Police Chiefs Association.

Daniel Jung has served as special assistant to the chief of police since July 2007. Prior to this role, Jung served as executive assistant to the city manager, assigned to work on a wide variety of key city council priorities and initiatives. Jung’s career with the City of Irvine spans over 22 years, beginning in the Community Development Department, where he held a variety of positions and was involved in numerous complex and sensitive projects.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVII, no. 3, March 2009. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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