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Oklahoma towns rely on police to generate revenue, keep citizens safe

Even though many drivers view Kiowa as just another speed trap in southeast Oklahoma, Police Chief Tony Runyon said he is just protecting the residents of his town from a dangerous road he calls “blood highway.”
by Andrew Knittle Modified: January 26, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: January 26, 2014

/articleid/3927513/1/pictures/2328776">Photo - Kiowa Police Department Chief Tony Runyon checks the speed of a vehicle Friday in Kiowa on U.S. 69. Photo by David McDaniel, The Oklahoman <strong>David McDaniel</strong>
Kiowa Police Department Chief Tony Runyon checks the speed of a vehicle Friday in Kiowa on U.S. 69. Photo by David McDaniel, The Oklahoman David McDaniel

Diane Clay, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said the town of Rock Island recently was investigated by the office but that it was determined the community of 650 was not a speed trap.

No apologies

For police chiefs working in these so-called speed traps, they are enforcing the laws of Oklahoma, not breaking them. Runyon makes no apologies for writing so many tickets that his town looks like a speed trap — at least on paper.

In Kiowa, 17,000 cars and trucks pass through the town every day on U.S. 69. Runyon said people are coming from all over, headed toward Dallas or coming from that direction.

Criminal activity and high speeds make the highway a constant source of danger for Kiowa residents, the chief said. Other towns along U.S. 69 face similar issues.

“We see a little bit of everything,” Runyon said. “Highway 69 is considered one of the main feeder veins for drug-trafficking and human trafficking ... and those are issues that have been present for a long time. We're just now getting publicity.

“Being a small town ... with a small population ... we don't get a lot of calls for service from citizens throughout the day,” the chief said. “In the meantime, we do traffic enforcement.”

‘Blood highway'

Patrolling the highway does more than pump cash into Kiowa's coffers. It also keeps U.S. 69 relatively safe, an important task considering the town's school is one side of the highway while most of the homes are on the other.

“The higher the speed, the deadlier the accident,” Runyon said of U.S. 69, which slices through the town.

“We call it the ‘blood highway.' We've seen a lot of blood on this highway. We don't go out and tell the general public, ‘You're driving on blood highway,' but they are.”

‘I fear for them'

With Stringtown's police department no longer able to write tickets, it will likely be forced to downsize significantly.

Runyon said the word is out that Stringtown's police officers “aren't going to be out there anymore.”

“I'm fearful for that town,” he said. “Stringtown is known, like we are, as a patrolled town.

“Those officers are not going to be there any more. I fear for those people of that town. Folks know they can pretty much do whatever they want down there with little or no repercussions.”

by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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