About 70 percent of the traffic stops that Lower Swatara Patrol Officer Randall Richards makes involve trucks.
That’s because Richards is the department’s MCSAP (short for the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program) officer.
“Basically, we play with big trucks,” Richards said.
That means he enforces commercial vehicle laws and inspects the drivers and their trucks to make sure they can safely be on the road.
With more warehouses on the way to the township, it’s likely Richards’ job will continue to be a busy one.
There are just about 100 warehouses in central Pennsylvania. In Lower Swatara alone, there are plans to build three more.
UPS wants to begin work on its new warehouse on North Union Street soon, and Lower Swatara commissioners gave the company permission to start site work once its permits are approved in June. A couple weeks later, the commissioners approved Wilsbach Distributors’ plans for a distribution center on the corner of Longview Drive and Oberlin Road.
D&H Distributing received permission to rezone the former Jednota property with the intention to build two warehouses on either side of Rosedale Avenue.
With more warehouses will inevitably come more trucks on township roads. In October, UPS officials estimated that 150 trucks would go in and out of the facility on a daily basis, with the number increasing to 180 during peak season.
D&H and Wilsbach have presented lower numbers in comparison with D&H estimating that 46 trucks would come in and out during peak season by year five of the warehouse’s construction. Wilsbach has estimated 10 to 20 trucks will come into the facility daily.
“I think it’s important [to have a MCSAP officer] because of the heavy truck traffic we have in the township,” Lower Swatara Police Chief Jeff Vargo said. The officers “make sure they’re following the law and not entering restricted areas or traveling where it’s prohibited.”
There are about 750 MCSAP officers statewide, including municipal officers (one in Lower Swatara and two in Middletown), State Police and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, according to Jeff Bowman, a law enforcement liaison for the Highway Safety Network, a nonprofit organization based in Pottsville.
Bowman occasionally joins officers on patrol. For example, he tagged along on Eisenhower Boulevard with Richards and Swatara Township Police Officer Brandon Ryder on July 24 as part of an ongoing Aggressive Driving wave. Ryder is Swatara’s MCSAP officer.
“Just about any time I stop a truck, I can find violations on it. They could be anything minor such as a light out to a majority of the time, I get the trucks running on some of our weight restricted roads. From that, it rolls into logbook violations and brakes that are out of adjustment,” Richards said.
Richards estimated that there are crashes involving trucks in the township every couple of months. He had issued 22 citations through the summer months, ranging from weight violations to no insurance to stop sign violations.
Richards has been with the Lower Swatara Police Department since 1991, and he was certified as a MCSAP officer in 2001, which he does on top of his regular duties.
“It’s something that’s unique. It’s different. It’s something that not everybody in law enforcement has the training for,” he said.
The MCSAP officer at the time told him that the majority of the crashes where the truck driver was at fault had brake and logbook violations.
“That’s what he always focused on the most, and then I kind of followed suit with that,” Richards said.
He was the department’s MCSAP officer for about eight years before he became the school resource officer until 2015.
“That summer I stopped an oversize load off his route, and the chief said, ‘Do you want to go back to motor carrier?’ If you send me, I’ll go,” Richards said.
According to PennDOT’s 2017 Crash Facts and Statistics report, there were 145 fatal crashes involving heavy trucks in 2017 statewide and 6,807 total crashes. Bowman said there were nine fatal crashes involving a truck in Dauphin County in 2018.
Like other traffic stops, Richards pulls over a truck after seeing a violation. But being a MCSAP officer gives him special permissions, such as asking for the driver’s log book and bill of lading, or what the driver is carrying.
The Department of Transportation rates companies. He checks the driver’s rating, and the higher rating the worse the company and whether it’s recommended to inspect the vehicle.
“If I see anything with the driver or the company that indicates you need to inspect it or if the violations that I find just the reason for the stop and then walking up indicate, yeah, there’s more going on here” then I inspect, he said.
But he can pull over all trucks if a detail is set up, and any officer can pull over an oversize load.
A majority of the trucks he sees pulled over are on North Union Street between Route 283 and Oberlin Road, where the road is weight restricted.
“Drivers tend to still go on the road because they’re following their GPS and not following the signs,” Richards said.
A full inspection of a truck and trailer takes about an hour and a half, he said.
The most common violation is that brakes are out of adjustment. If a truck is found in violation, then it’s put out of service. He tries to put the truck out of service close to a toilet, phone and food, though sometimes he’ll escort the truck if it’s close to its destination.