Making the roads safer

by Peter Bodley
Managing Editor

Armed with a federal grant, Anoka County law enforcement agencies continue to work overtime in an effort to make the roads in the county safer for the traveling public.

For the federal fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2011 and runs through Sept. 30, 2012, the Coon Rapids Police Department, which is the lead fiscal agency for the grant dollars, received $340,000 for the multi-agency 2012 Toward Zero Death (TZD) program.

The federal dollars are allocated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety as part of a statewide TZD effort.

Besides the Coon Rapids Police Department, other law enforcement agencies in the county involved in the program are the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office and the police departments of Anoka, Blaine, Centennial Lakes, Columbia Heights, Fridley, Lino Lakes, Ramsey, Spring Lake Park and St. Francis.

The bulk of the grant dollars go to enforcement of impaired driving, distracted driving, speed and seat belt use.

The grant also includes money for Anoka County Dispatch resources, some equipment purchases and administration.

And according to Det. Sgt. Jon Urquhart, Coon Rapids Police Department TZD project coordinator, the enhanced enforcement effort coupled with education is having a positive effect.

Statewide in 2011 there were 50 less fatalities and Anoka County has also seen a reduction in traffic fatalities, Urquhart said.

The TZD program has operated under several different names in the past – Operation NightCap, Safe and Sober and the Anoka County DWI task force, said Capt. Cary Parks, Coon Rapids Police Department.

“TZD has lumped all these programs into one,” he said.

But impaired driving is not the only focus; speeding, seat belt use and distracted driving are also part of the enforcement and education effort.

According to Urquhart, the enhanced DWI saturation enforcement using officers from all the departments working overtime takes place every weekend on a selected highway in the county where there is both a high volume of traffic and a lot of serious accidents.

These include Highway 10, Highway 65, Main Street, I-35W, I-35E, I-694, University Avenue, Central Avenue and Highway 47 in the northern part of the county, Urquhart said.

In addition, the enhanced enforcement program also targets community celebrations during the year, he said.

For seat belt use and speed enforcement, the TZD program does saturation waves at various times during the year, Urquhart said.

Another speed enforcement wave is scheduled at the end of this month (January), he said.

Before any traffic stop is made, the officer has to have “reasonable articulable suspicion” under the law, according to Parks.

That’s a slightly lower standard than probable cause, Parks said.

Equipment and moving traffic violations are examples where a stop can be made, he said.

“But we can’t stop someone on a ‘mere whim’,” Urquhart said.

“It has to be something that can be put in writing and testified to in court if necessary.”

But DWI checkpoints have been ruled illegal in this state by the Minnesota Supreme Court, Parks said.

While the DWI enhanced enforcement generally takes place at night, the speed and seat belt waves will often be scheduled during the daytime, according to Urquhart.

And when stops are made for suspicion of DWI, speed and seat belt violations, other violations subject to charging or citations are often found, for example, driving after license revocation, driving after license suspension and driving without insurance, Parks said.

There is also an education component, he said.

There are signs posted that alert drivers to the enforcement effort and everyone who is stopped is given a card explaining the TZD program, Parks said.

“Word gets out,” he said.

A statewide enhanced DWI enforcement campaign in December resulted in the arrest of 2,573 impaired motorists, according to a press release from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

In Anoka County, the number of DWI arrests by department during December was as follows;

• Anoka, 9.

• Anoka County Sheriff, 16.

• Blaine, 12,

• Centennial Lakes, 21.

• Columbia Heights, 4.

• Coon Rapids, 21.

• Fridley, 10.

• Lino Lakes, 9.

• Ramsey, 2.

• Spring Lake Park, 3.

• St. Francis, 3.

Participation in the TZD enforcement program requires action by the Anoka County Board and the city councils of county municipalities that have their own police department.

When the resolution for participation by the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office came before the county board at its meeting Jan. 10, Commissioner Matt Look raised some concerns about quotas and complaints that he had received from constituents.

Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart assured Look that there were no quotas for officers working the TZD program and his office was sensitive to complaints received from motorists that have been stopped, stating there has to be probable cause for the stop.

The county board unanimously approved the resolution.

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the TZD program is designed to create a safe driving culture in Minnesota in which motorists support a goal of zero road fatalities by practicing and promoting safe and smart driving behavior.

TZD focuses on the application of four strategic areas to reduce crashes — education, enforcement, engineering and emergency trauma response, the state agency says.


2011 changes, citations


The federally-funded Anoka County DWI task force and Safe & Sober enhanced enforcement efforts involving all law enforcement agencies in Anoka County have now been folded into one Toward Zero Death (TZD) campaign for the 2011-2012 federal grant cycle.

But in prior years they have operated separately using federal grants passed on by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

While the DWI task force focused primarily on impaired driving and Safe & Sober’s targets were speeding and seat belt use, both used officers from the law enforcement agencies in the county working overtime to provide saturation coverage and enforcement waves.

According to statistics provided by Lt. Shelly Orlando, Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, in the year starting Oct. 1, 2010 through Sept. 30, 2011, the task force worked 3,742.25 hours, made 6,416 stops and arrested 373 motorists for DWI.

In addition, 49 drug arrests were made and 83 people were arrested on warrants.

As well, 206 speeding citations were written, 197 seat belt citations were given out, there were 140 equipment violation citations and 239 citations written for such violations as driving after revocation (DAR), driving after suspension (DAS) and driving after cancelation (DAC).

Statistics provided by Coon Rapids Police Det. Sgt. Jon Urquhart, Safe & Sober project coordinator, show that for the same time period, Oct. 1, 2010 through Sept. 30, 2011, there were 2,683 vehicles stopped during enforcement waves and 1,028 hours worked.

There were 469 citations given for speeding and 515 for seat belt violations, plus two DWI arrests.

In addition, there were another 429 citations given out, including 99 for DAR, DAS and DAC and 187 for equipment violations.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]