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Patrols target school zones

Drivers have had the summer off from 20 mph school zones; starting today police throughout the Inland Northwest are making it their mission to remind motorists the rules are too costly to ignore.

As students return to school after the Labor Day weekend, law enforcement in Coeur d’Alene, Spokane, and Kootenai and Spokane counties will be planted near schools looking for speeders, those who fail to stop for pedestrians or drivers who disobey other traffic laws.

Day shift Kootenai County sheriff’s deputies will be starting an hour earlier for the first two weeks of school, Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Stuart Miller said. “It’s an emphasis that starts from the top level. Even the captain (Ben Wolfinger) says he’ll be out,” Miller said.

Coeur d’Alene police officers will also be watching for violations near the high schools as well as on Kathleen Avenue, said Sgt. Christie Wood.

In addition to speeders, officers will be paying particular attention to drivers who don’t stop for pedestrians. In Coeur d’Alene, the fine is $35.

The Spokane Police Department plans to have its 12 motorcycle officers posted at school zones for the first week of classes, said Officer Glenn Bartlett. They will start in the morning at high schools, then bounce around to the elementary and middle schools all day.

A new feature for school zones in Spokane will be flashing lights and new signs near the crossing areas.

“The signs will say ‘20 mph when lights are flashing,’ ” instead of “when children are present,” Bartlett said. “Then drivers won’t be able to say, ‘We didn’t see the children.’ ”

One sign and light has been installed near Lidgerwood Elementary School. Drivers will see them show up throughout the school year; 70 are planned for installation. The signs and lights were bought through a grant from the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission.

“It’s better for everyone involved,” Bartlett said. “Nobody wants to hit a kid.”

Spokane County sheriff’s deputies also will monitor school zones this week, including whether motorists are stopping for the loading and unloading of school buses.

“Remember that kids are excited about being back in school and seeing their buddies again,” said Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Ken Salas. “They may not be paying as much attention to traffic as they should, and drivers have to be particularly cautious this first week of school.”