South Florida cops are hitting the brakes, new data show

The trend is dramatic and definite: South Florida cops have slowed down big time.

The Sun Sentinel examined new SunPass data and found police speeding has dropped significantly since the newspaper published its "Above the Law" investigative series in February. 

The investigation found nearly 800 officers from a dozen agencies averaging 90 to 130 mph between highway tollbooths. Many of those lead-foot cops were speeding to and from work.

SunPass toll records for the same agencies from mid-February through October show an 84 percent drop in high-speed incidents over the same period last year, the Sun Sentinel has calculated.

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"It seems like the message has been received by South Florida law enforcement to slow down," Margate Police Chief Dana Watson said.

The records show excessive speeding by cops to and from work in their take-home cars virtually ended in late spring as police departments began disciplining officers based on the newspaper's investigation.

In Broward County, cops became much more mindful of the speed limit. Officers from Davie, Plantation and Sunrise hit speeds over 90 mph a total of only 10 times, compared to 160 times last year.

A SunPass transponder assigned to a Pembroke Pines officer who had been commuting through Miami-Dade County as fast as 105 mph never registered a speed above 79 mph.

In Fort Lauderdale and Margate, no cop with a transponder drove above 90 mph after the Sun Sentinel investigation, according to the records

High-speed incidents overall fell to 495, down from 3,179 during the same period in 2011.

Some South Florida commuters have noticed.

"I see them speeding a little bit, but not to the extent they were before," said Scott Spizman of Plantation, who drives 100 miles a day to and from his job in West Palm Beach. "It seems a lot safer out there."

The new trend captured by the data shows:

• Cops at 11 of the 12 law enforcement agencies examined in the Sun Sentinel series slowed down in 2012. (For the 12th, the Miami-Dade Police Department, SunPass records are no longer available).

• Only one in 13 police cars registered speeds above 90 mph, compared to one in four last year.

• Habitual speeding stopped. Cops are no longer pushing the speedometer past 95 or 100 mph day in and day out.

Leaders in South Florida law enforcement welcomed the change. They say off-duty speeding and speeding in non-emergencies is not only dangerous and deadly — but also erodes citizens' confidence in police fairness.

"It's something that I continue to remind them of,'' said Watson, Margate's chief. "We're here to uphold the law, and we're expected to abide by it.''

One cop, rampant speeding

It was one Miami cop's blatant disregard for speed limits a year ago that brought scrutiny of the driving habits of all South Florida law enforcement officers.