At City Commission’s direction, city attorney to draft ordinance to implement program designed to deter speeding in school safety zones

Sarasota Police Department study finds what captain calls ‘quite shocking’ results

Det. John Lake (left) and Capt. Demetri Konstantopoulos appear before the Sarasota City Commission on July 1. News Leader image

After learning the details of a study that the Sarasota Police Department conducted in March within the city’s six school safety zones, the Sarasota City Commission voted unanimously to pursue new regulations in accord with state law.

Among the data collected during the five-day study, the Police Department recorded 17,445 violations of speeding in the zone for Cardinal Mooney High School, which stands at 4171 Fruitville Road. The time frame for the study was March 18 through March 22, the report said.

Formally, during their regular meeting on July 1, the city commissioners directed City Attorney Robert Fournier and his staff to draft an ordinance that will allow the implementation of a school speed detection system. The details of such regulations are provided in Florida Statute 316.008, which resulted from passage of a 2023 Florida Legislature bill, as shown in the backup agenda material for the July 1 discussion.

Although the item regarding the proposed city ordinance was included as part of the City Commission’s first Consent Agenda of routine business matters that day, Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch pulled it to put focus on the issue. She pointed out that she and her colleagues receive numerous complaints from constituents in regard to speeding.

Demetri Konstantopoulos, captain of the Sarasota Police Department’s Support Services Division, and Det. John Lake, a member of the agency’s Criminal Investigations Division, appeared before the board members as a result of Ahearn-Koch’s action.

Referencing the state law, Konstantopoulos told the commissioners that the department wanted to achieve the implementation of a Speed Zone Detection Program in the city.

“Our goal is to reinforce these school zones,” he continued, “because our officers can’t be in every school zone,” even though the department, he noted, has “a very robust traffic unit.”

Then Konstantopoulos pointed out that the numbers of violations that the department found during its five-day study “were really quite shocking.”

He first cited the Cardinal Mooney situation.

These are details of the violations recorded in the Cardinal Mooney High School safety zone. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

When Ahearn-Koch asked him to explain what is considered a school safety speed zone violation, Konstantopoulos replied that a motorist must be driving 10 mph or more over the posted speed limit.

He added that Southside Elementary School, whose campus is on Webber Street, between Osprey Avenue and U.S. 41, “had significant data,” as well.

The Police Department report logged more than 10,000 violations for Southside’s four school safety zones — along South Tamiami Trail (3,624), along South Osprey Avenue (3,160) and along Webber Street east of U.S. 41 (2,721), and along Webber west of U.S. 41 (633).

The report also notes that 2,357 violations occurred at Sarasota Military Academy on North Orange Avenue; and more than 2,900 were recorded within just two Tuttle Elementary’s two safety zones: Lime Avenue — 1,804; and Lockwood Ridge Road — 1,154.

This graphic shows the six schools within the city’s jurisdiction. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

The benchmark for a school to be included in the program is 100 or more violations per day, Lake of the Criminal Investigations Division added. If the count is below that, he said, the installation of a speed detection system is not warranted.

Along with the schools already mentioned, Konstantopoulos noted that the others are Sarasota High School and Alta Vista Elementary School.

Ahearn-Koch said that when she first saw the figure for Cardinal Mooney High School, she thought, “How is that even possible, that there could be that many people not just speeding 2 [mph], 5 [mph], 6 [mph] over the speed limit?’ ”

Adding that the speed limit is 15 mph in the school zones, she stressed the significance of exceeding that by 10 mph or more.

Commissioner Erik Arroyo characterized the Cardinal Mooney data as “an outlier.” He questioned whether the warning lights used to alert drivers that they are entering the school speed zone were working that day.

Commissioner Debbie Trice pointed to the percentage of drivers who were in violation when the study was undertaken. “I noticed that at Cardinal Mooney, it was 13%,” she said. “At Sarasota Military it was 11%.”

Therefore, she continued, “I’m even wondering, with that percentage of violations, is it even possible to enforce [the speed limit] without the speed detection cameras.”

“No, it’s not, ma’am,” Lake of Criminal Investigations told her.

Trice did take the opportunity to emphasize the value of school crossing guards, as demonstrated by the study. For example, she noted the data showing that, on U.S. 41 adjacent to Southside Elementary, only about 3% of drivers were found in violation.

“Every time I go down [U.S.] 41 when school is letting out,” Trice continued, she sees “the school crossing guards are out there, and traffic is complying with the speed.”

These are details related to the U.S. 41 safety zone for Southside Elementary. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

January 2025 likely to mark start of program

When Ahearn-Koch initially indicated that the commissioners and city staff would need to start “spreading the word” about the program, with the next school year set to begin in mid-August, City Manager Marlon Brown pointed out, “This is not going to be deployed at the beginning of [the next school year]. It’s going to take a while.”

The ordinance will have to be approved, he continued, and then the city will need to obtain the necessary equipment.

It likely would be January 2025, Brown said, before the program can begin.

Commissioner Arroyo suggested the potential of implementing a similar program within neighborhoods and on major city arteries.

Further, Arroyo indicated a desire to require motorists to adhere to the 15 mph maximum for the school zones for a longer period of time each day than the Police Department had indicated.

The state law allows a county or municipality to “enforce the applicable speed limit [in a school zone]” as follows:

  • “Within 30 minutes before through 30 minutes after the start of a regularly scheduled breakfast program;
  • “Within 30 minutes before through 30 minutes after the start of a regularly scheduled school session;
  • “During the entirety of a regularly scheduled school session; and
  • “Within 30 minutes before through 30 minutes after the end of a regularly scheduled school session.”
This chart includes all of the violations recorded during the study. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

“We have discretion,” Arroyo continued. “We can craft our ordinance to be a little more tailored [for the school zones],” Arroyo added.
Brown pointed out that the City Commission could not implement longer time restrictions than the state law permits. “You can’t do it for 40 minutes or 45 minutes,” Brown added. A shorter time period would be possible, though, he said.

Arroyo replied that he was seeking a shorter period.

Brown then said that when the draft ordinance is brought back to the commissioners for their review, staff will have more information about the potential for different time frames for drivers in the school zones. “We don’t have all the answers right now.”

After the discussion, Vice Mayor Ahearn-Koch made the motion to direct the city attorney to prepare the ordinance that would govern the use of the school zone speed detection system, and Commissioner Trice seconded it.