It began Oct. 1 as a much-publicized effort by county police to crack down on speeding motorists along Fairfax County Parkway.
But about 10 days later, Operation Safe Speed was quietly suspended because officers were needed to help track down the snipers who were claiming victims throughout the region, including on Oct. 14 at the Home Depot in the Falls Church area.
Now, police say they have resumed the safety campaign along the 35-mile cross-county parkway between Routes 1 and 7.
According to the traffic safety division commander, Jesse F. Bowman, the new effort will continue through the end of next month.
At the outset of the traffic enforcement effort, police and drivers said they had noticed a difference. "As early as the first day of the campaign, people were slowing down, so they must have gotten 'the memo' on it. Normally it's a speedway out there," said county police officer C.A. Longerbeam, 33. People routinely drive 25 miles per hour above the 50 mph limit, police data show.
Longerbeam drives an unmarked maroon Chevy Camaro that drivers do not notice until he pulls someone over and the lights are flashing. Then they stare as if it's some strange new animal.
The stealth Camaro is one new tool police are using to catch speeders and other reckless drivers. Radar, motorcycle patrols and red light cameras also are part of their parkway equipment. So is a large pickup truck disguised as a disabled vehicle that is equipped with lidar, which resembles radar but uses infrared instead of radio waves. Lidar, or laser radar, can zoom in on a single car on crowded roadways, measuring its distance and eliminating doubt about which car was speeding.
Cox Communications, the cable TV provider for most county residents, is chipping in with public service announcements urging residents to slow down or risk fines and possible jail time when they drive aggressively.
Despite the tech toys, Longerbeam said, "The big plan isn't to give people tickets but to get people to slow down. People are dying out here."
Since the parkway opened in segments beginning in 1987, 25 people have died in traffic accidents.
As he patrolled the parkway on one of the early days of the enforcement initiative, Longerbeam issued three citations in two hours, two for speeding and one for improper lane changing. Three citations may not seem like much, but Longerbeam was not alone. The police were everywhere along the parkway; teams of officers had drivers pulled over between West Ox Road and Lee Chapel Road.
Longerbeam blamed drivers' inattention for the increase in speeding, saying most people do not realize how fast they are going.
As Longerbeam was talking, a black Ford Contour rounded a curve too fast. The police officer pulled over the driver, who told Longerbeam he was going 60 mph. On Longerbeam's front passenger seat lay the radar gun. It caught the driver going 73 mph.
Earlier, a fire-engine red Nissan Pathfinder SUV was speeding past Longerbeam's Camaro near West Ox Road.
The Pathfinder's driver cut in front of the Camaro, changed lanes again to pass another vehicle and darted back across two lanes of parkway traffic. Longerbeam had seen enough. He paced the Pathfinder at 68 mph before flicking the switches for the Camaro's hidden police lights and siren.
"LFW -- late for work," quipped Longerbeam, who issued the driver a citation before pulling the Camaro back onto the parkway to prowl for more prey. "There are some cars on this road today!"