December 22, 2013

Police expand traffic unit

By Bruce Frazier Dalton Police Department

— The Dalton Police Department has expanded its full-time Traffic Enforcement Unit from two officers to three, and will be adding a fourth officer to the unit in early 2014.

The expansion of the traffic unit is part of the department’s overall strategic plan with the goal of reducing serious injury crashes in Dalton not just through enforcement, but also through increased educational efforts.

While all patrol officers are available for duty related to traffic, the expansion of the traffic unit will allow the agency to place more of an emphasis on prevention and education. The traffic unit officers will teach preventative safety for teens in the 15-18 age range, including the continuation of the “Fatal Vision” program focused on the dangers of drinking and driving. The traffic unit will also be designing safety programs for younger children. Many children in Dalton walk to school and educating them about pedestrian safety near roadways and crossings can keep them safe.

“Historically, teens account for many crashes in Dalton, mostly due to a lack of experience” said Officer Brandon Daugherty, one of the officers added last month to the traffic unit. “Our approach won’t replace the traditional driver’s education class, but it should help raise safety awareness.”

With more full-time officers, the traffic unit will also have more flexibility to respond to traffic complaints brought by citizens. Rather than just putting patrol units in a problem area for short periods of time, the traffic unit can conduct studies to find out if more actions are needed to resolve issues.

“I get calls from our citizens on a fairly regular basis about traffic safety concerns in their neighborhoods,” Dalton Police Chief Jason Parker said. “Patrol officers address the issues between other calls, but this approach gives us a better chance of addressing the root problem.”

The police department has been met with some success in 2013 in its effort to reduce crashes. So far this year, crashes are down about 5 percent from the same year-to-date numbers in 2012 falling from 1,147 to 1,087 crashes. The number of injury crashes has also shown a slight decrease, falling by about half a percentage point with 243 incidents this year. The agency has increased the number of DUI arrests in 2013 to 195 from 177 last year.

That’s a continuation of the work done by the traffic unit and patrol division at large in 2012 that earned a national honor for the agency.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Dalton Public Safety Commission, Parker presented a trophy the agency earned for finishing second in its division in the National Law Enforcement Challenge. The competition is administered by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Traffic law enforcement programs are reviewed not just for enforcement efforts such as citations and participation in campaigns such as Operation Zero Tolerance, but also for educational campaigns made with area media or in classes taught by department officers. The DPD’s traffic program finished second among municipal agencies with between 76 and 100 officers. The James City County Police in Williamsburg, Va. finished first. The DPD finished third in the challenge in 2012.

“I think we’ve stepped up our efforts,” said Officer Woody Cantrell, the longest tenured member of the traffic unit. “We’ve done selective enforcement targeting those certain violations that contribute to significant injury crashes like seat belt details where one officer stands on the roadway and calls out to other officers to stop that car. We concentrate on the areas where the most crashes are occurring.”

In addition to their enforcement and educational duties, the members of the traffic unit are also tasked with coordinating all investigations into serious traffic crashes in the city and also all accident reconstruction efforts.

The expansion of the traffic unit does not involve any additional officers being added to the ranks of the department. All officers joining the traffic unit are being reassigned from other duties.

Focusing attention on traffic enforcement may rub some Dalton drivers the wrong way, but Cantrell said the purpose behind the effort isn’t writing more tickets but instead making Dalton’s roads safer.

“All these issues could end up with somebody being hurt,” Cantrell said. “If you’re not wearing a seat belt and you’re involved in a wreck it’s going to be worse than if you were. And speeding, 10 miles an hour could be the difference between a minor injury and a life threatening one. That’s all it takes is 10 miles an hour.”