SPEED LIMIT MM 01

Traffic passes a 75 miles per hour speed limit sign on westbound Interstate 14 near Loop 121 in Belton on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. Michael Miller/Telegram

BELTON — A jump in the number of accident calls on Interstates 35 and 14 prompted the Belton Police Department to ask the Texas Department of Public Safety to respond first to crashes on the state thoroughfares.

Effective Jan. 1, DPS took over 15 miles of interstate highway in Belton, DPS spokesman Sgt. Bryan Washko said.

“We made this request due to the high accident volume on the interstates, which often stretches our resources very thin,” Belton Police Chief Gene Ellis said. “The volume of demand for police services on the interstates due to traffic crashes can impact the ability of officers to be available for calls for police services in other areas of Belton.”

The number of accident calls on I-35 doubled from 2018 to 2019, according to data kept by the city.

Last year, Belton Police responded to 500 calls on I-35. That number was 287 in 2018.

Belton Police responded to 815 accidents calls on the interstates in 2019. I-14 had 315 calls. Interstate accidents represent 45 percent of the 1,803 accident calls made in Belton in 2019.

The police department responded to 782 accident calls in 2018. I-14 had 495 calls. And, like 2019, interstate accidents made up about 45 percent of the 1,751 accident calls made in the city in 2018.

 “This move is a proactive response to the booming population growth within the area,” Washko said. “In an effort to reduce the numbers in both major and minor crashes that occur on the interstates within Bell County, the Texas DPS has partnered with the city of Belton and providing our resources and services.”

Belton Police responded to 36,926 calls for service in 2018, according to the department’s annual report from last year. Calls for service are instances when an officer responds to a request for service from a resident or contacts a resident. Traffic accidents were cited as the third most frequent reason for a call.

That number has hovered around that mid-30,000 mark stretching back five years. There were 36,805 calls for service in 2017; 38,615 in 2016; and 36,512 in 2015.

Belton made the safety request under a rule in the Texas Administrative Code, a list of state agency regulations. Cities with populations under 50,000 can ask DPS to patrol state highways. The city has an estimated population of 22,532.

Ellis stressed that Belton Police will still respond to accidents with injuries and major crashes when officers are available or when DPS is unavailable.

“The first responder title still applies, and we take that role seriously,” Ellis said. “DPS has agreed to assist as the first dispatched agency for crash responses on the main lanes of the interstates. Belton PD will continue to handle crashes on the frontage roads and all other Belton roadways. We will also provide assistance to DPS anytime it is needed.”

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