Among the major cities across the country, the Washington, D. C. Metropolitan region is well known for its traffic volume and the related challenges that impact public safety. In a matter of minutes, jurisdictional boundaries can be crossed between the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland with each area having its own law enforcement agency. People may live in one place and work in another so they routinely travel the roadways and intersect jurisdictional lines.
In Maryland, Prince George’s County leads the state in traffic fatalities. So far in 2010, the Prince George’s County Police Department’s Collision Analysis Reconstruction Unit (CARU) has already handled 48 fatalities. The issues behind most of them — if not all — are speed and alcohol. There have already been approximately 329 DUIs this year alone.
Many of the larger areas, such as the well-known and highly-traveled Capitol Beltway, have not been receiving the enforcement attention they deserve. However, change is quickly evolving. On October 20, 2010, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley announced new safety and community improvement initiatives. The Prince George’s County Police Department was awarded a $200,000 enforcement grant by the Maryland State Highway Administration that provides the police department additional funding for traffic safety enforcement and also supports the County’s Fatal Accident Reduction Plan that has been conjointly implemented by both the Prince George’s County Police and Maryland State Police. Ms. Beverley Swaim-Staley, Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary, presented the award.
The federal funds that were awarded provide for additional speed and alcohol detection equipment and also provide enforcement funding for aggressive driving, impaired driving, and pedestrian safety throughout the county and near the Beltway. The areas of enforcement are based on statistical data involving high speed crashes, vehicle fatalities, pedestrian injuries/fatalities, and DUI related incidents and arrests. The grant also covers the unveiling of 20 new DUI enforcement signs along the Capitol Beltway.
The actions undertaken by the Prince George’s County Police Department can have major impact beyond their own jurisdiction. Prince George’s County Deputy Chief of Police, Kevin Davis, who heads the Bureau of Patrol, stresses that veteran officers know the indicators and use mobile enforcement as well as checkpoints. They are skilled in spotting drunk drivers.
“We have to do something about it. We’re big enough and good enough to do both,” he said. The traffic safety initiatives will focus, to a much greater degree, on aggressive driving, speed, unsafe lane changes, and tail gaiting. There are soccer moms, accountants, and others from all walks of life that are committing these violations that can put others at high risk for injury or even death. “It knows no cultural barriers,” said Deputy Chief Davis.
He notes police agencies that are similar to Prince George’s and have crime challenges sometimes get tunnel vision. “We’ve been historically challenged responding to violent crime. We’ve had higher incidents of violent crime, but we’ve always had this in our toolbox,” he said. The aggressive driving law has given the police the mechanism to charge the violators.
The newly formed Traffic Enforcement Team was established a few months ago and consists of a sergeant and ten officers with more being added in the not too distant future. The officers that comprise this team are senior officers who have the necessary training. “They are a squad of like-minded officers who are similarly trained as a team. Traffic enforcement is their passion,” said Davis. Young officers are being trained in the techniques and skills.
“Are we reinventing the wheel? Not necessarily, but this is now a priority for us. It’s not traffic enforcement for the sake of traffic enforcement. There are other residual effects such as lowering insurance rates, increased safety, and the detection of other crimes,” Davis said. This strategy is one that is important for all local police departments.
Governor O’Malley recognizes that if he can reduce traffic fatalities in Prince George’s County, which is one of the largest counties in Maryland, the impact would have ramifications that would send a message to the entire state. “If we can identify where it happens and when it happens and target those areas, it’s a better use of our resources,” said Davis, referring to the risks involved.
“For too long, traffic crashes have plagued Prince George’s County, killing more than 1200 of our citizens over the last 10 years. Through a new dedicated traffic enforcement unit and other public safety outreach initiatives, we are taking action to prevent these crashes not only around the Capital Beltway but throughout our great county,” said Prince George’s County Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton.
The police department’s proactive implementation of additional traffic measures made possible by the grant award suggests that the department is on the right road to reducing risks and saving lives.