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From 0-60: 3 lessons on founding a motorcycle unit

How DCSD improved traffic safety with the help of a motorcycle patrol

The following is paid content sponsored by Harley-Davidson Motor Company

By PoliceOne Staff

Once the boundary that separated settled America from the Wild West, Dickson County, Tennessee rests an hour’s drive from Nashville. The 35 full-time road deputies that patrol this mostly rural area of about 490 miles and around 50,000 residents were faced with traffic statistics that seemed to echo their unruly past.

(photo courtesy of Harley-Davidson Motor Company)
(photo courtesy of Harley-Davidson Motor Company)

Traffic crashes and crash-related deaths were surging and the county’s roads were amongst the deadliest in the state. Of Tennessee’s 95 counties, Dickson ranked 12th highest in overall number of alcohol-related crashes, and 13th for alcohol related fatalities. Traffic safety was a serious problem that needed an effective solution.

In an effort to fulfill that need, Sheriff Bledsoe developed a full-time “Traffic Safety Awareness and Education Program” (TSAP) that includes the use of a Harley-Davidson police motorcycle.

The program has been a resounding success, both in terms of numbers and the response from the community. During the most recent twelve-month period (October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014), Dickson County reduced its total number of crashes by 12.9 percent compared to the combined average of the preceding ten years. Crash-related fatalities were reduced by 45.2 percent, to the lowest level in more than ten years.

And beyond the increased safety of the highways, the program created inroads in the community.

“One of the greatest benefits of operating a motor unit is the public relations boost that naturally occurs,” said Deputy Paul Montgomery of the Dickson County Sheriff’s Department. “I’m amazed at the number of people that are interested in talking about the motorcycle. Harley-Davidson motorcycles have a huge fan base.”

Deputy Montgomery, who is the county’s first motorcycle officer and was instrumental in developing the traffic safety program, shared some of his lessons about how to successfully start a motorcycle unit.

1. Get the data first, then approach decision makers

Decision makers need data to back up their decisions. The first step in reaching them is to gather compelling data. The quality of data, as well as its source, will be crucial. You’ll want to use data that has been independently verified by a third-party source. This is a large part of building a compelling case.

“When I could provide accurate information produced outside of the Sheriff’s Office showing where we ranked, I got their attention. No one could deny the need we faced,” Montgomery said. In addition to the statistics, Deputy Montgomery included photographs of local students killed by drunk driving and texting while driving. “If I had gone to the county sheriff without having the evidence to back up our case, I’m confident the plan would have been denied.”

2. Connect with stakeholders, peers, and the community

“If I had to pick one simple rule, it would be ‘good communication,’” noted Montgomery.

Connecting with key decision makers is crucial to getting their support. Deputy Montgomery reached out first to his shift lieutenant and then the Sheriff. Eventually, with the support of in-house decision makers, he sought the help of local lawmakers. Deputy Montgomery started attending County Commissioner meetings, getting to know them individually and sharing information about traffic safety. This, in turn, led to other opportunities to interact with the community.

“I would strongly encourage anyone looking to start a motorcycle unit to take advantage of those opportunities; those are the people who are involved in the community.”

3. Make equipment choices you can build on

Making the right choice when it comes to equipment can make the difference in your motorcycle unit’s effectiveness. For the Dickson county Sheriff’s Department, Harley-Davidson law enforcement motorcycles proved to be the right choice both in terms of performance and public opinion.

“I can’t understate the value of our motorcycle being a Harley-Davidson,” Montgomery said. “The already-existing fan base has helped to break down communications barriers with the community. Being able to tap into that existing pool of support has been invaluable. It was completely unintentional for us, but it worked in our favor.”

Dickson County’s Traffic Safety Awareness and Education Program and the inception of their motorcycle unit have resulted in big improvements in the county’s road safety. By putting the right information into the hands of decision makers and choosing the right equipment for the job, the Dickson County Sheriff’s Department was able to reverse a decade’s worth of startling traffic statistics. 

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