With some media outlets reporting that police are “banning” texting while walking in the borough, Fort Lee Police Chief Thomas O. Ripoli Monday clarified the local’s crackdown on jaywalkers, saying that his intention in holding a Thursday was simply to get the word out and curtail incidents of pedestrians getting hit by cars—something that’s been a big problem in Fort Lee this year—and not to suggest there’s a ban on texting specifically.
“We’ve had over 20 people hit this year already; we have three fatalities already this year,” Ripoli said. “So I just figured I’d jump on it.”
But he said that while he’s been getting calls ever since Thursday’s press conference from as far away as Canada, England and Australia, which can take a lot of time to deal with one-by-one, he takes it as a positive that word is getting out.
“That’s the key here,” Ripoli told Patch, adding, “What we’re doing is we’re cracking down on people that are jaywalking. That’s what it all comes down to.”
Ripoli however said his message is getting “mixed up a little bit because people are thinking we’re giving tickets for texting—just walking and texting,” which he emphasized is not the case.
“All I said was that people text, they’re on their cell phone or they’re on their iPods, and they’re not paying attention, and basically it came out different I guess,” Ripoli said. “It’s about Jaywalking and not paying attention.”
Ripoli confirmed that about 120 summonses have been issued to jaywalkers since the crackdown started, but said the fine for such violations is $54, not the $85 that has been widely reported.
He said police officers have been giving out “educational pamphlets,” stopping would-be jaywalkers, and not necessarily ticketing everybody.
“We’ve done that for two weeks, and we continue doing that,” Ripoli said. “Some people have gotten summonses along the way.”
Ripoli estimated that about 600 people have been stopped, warned and given a pamphlet, so the roughly 120 summonses represent a relatively small percentage.
On the same day Ripoli announced the crackdown, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said who fail to follow the rules regarding foot traffic at intersections.
“You are to yield to our pedestrians, and you are to obey those traffic laws,” Sokolich said, addressing his comments to motorists. “Once somebody is on that pedestrian crosswalk, it is state law that you come to a full and complete stop; bottom line. And that person has to be completely off before you continue.”
Ripoli agreed that curbing the problem works both ways.
“We do the opposite with the drivers who are not giving the right of way to pedestrians, and we’re giving them summonses too,” he said.
Ultimately, the police aren’t going to be able to stop the problem entirely, Ripoli said, but they are doing what they can to educate, warn, and yes, ticket, both motorists and pedestrians who don’t follow traffic rules.
“We’ve been giving speeding tickets since the beginning of time; people still speed, Ripoli said. “People are still going to jaywalk, but we’re trying to show awareness and trying to save lives and prevent injuries.”