When it comes to traffic safety, Hall County Sheriff's officers know what they're doing.
The office was recognized for its speeding, impaired driving and occupant protection programs by the International Association of Chiefs of Police at a recent annual conference. The group earned first place for the National Law Enforcement Challenge in the 251-500 officer category and was a semifinalist for the Webber Seavey Award for its teen driving program that targets texting and drinking distractions while driving.
"I am very proud of the men and women of the Hall County Sheriff's Office. They work hard every day to provide professional and dedicated law enforcement services to the citizens we serve," Sheriff Steve Cronic said. "We are extremely proud and honored to have been recognized by the IACP as the best in the nation for our efforts in traffic enforcement and teen driver education."
This marks the third time the sheriff's office won the National Law Enforcement Challenge in recent years. The group won first place in 2007 and third place in 2004. The award recognizes traffic enforcement programs nationwide for similar sizes and types of law enforcement agencies who submit documentation on officer training, public information and ability to reduce crashes and injuries.
"It's an inch-thick notebook of policies, training initiatives, media articles and our education programs," sheriff's office spokesman Col. Jeff Strickland said. "The department makes speeding enforcement and DUI enforcement a priority, and a policy requires officers to wear seat belts. Another program trains officers in occupant protection, such as seat belts and child restraints."
The traffic unit is specially trained to enforce driving under the influence and speeding laws, and the sheriff's office builds incentives into the program, such as awards for accidents saved by seat belts or airbags and top numbers of DUI arrests.
"We also work on the different state and national campaigns, such as the 100 days of summer (Highway Enforcement Aggressive Traffic) and all the holiday campaigns that combat DUI driving," Strickland said. "We turn in statistical data about accidents, and we continue to see a decline in the number of accidents in Hall County, especially fatal accidents."
Sheriff's deputies also work with Safe Kids of Hall County to promote child-seat safety and bicycle safety, and officers gave away more than 1,900 helmets in 26 schools. In high schools, officers talk about impaired driving caused by texting and DUI distractions.
"Our guys work hard, and it's a priority for us. One person being killed on Hall County roads is too many," Strickland said. "In 2009, there were 21 fatalities, and that's a tremendous impact on families. It's all preventable, so our main goal is prevention."
The Webber Seavy Award, named for the first president of the International
Association of Chiefs of Police, is presented to agencies who are dedicated to quality of life in local communities. The Hall County Sheriff's Office was honored as a semifinalist for its first year showing the Fatal Vision crash simulation to high school students before prom in spring 2010.
Through the program, students saw a staged fatal alcohol-related accident happen in real time. All seniors were bused to the East Hall High School stadium, where an ambulance, fire truck and law enforcement vehicles arrived on the field to treat victims in a staged two-car accident.
"It shows what would happen in a normal situation, complete with full makeup and seriously injured people," Strickland said. "We had a Life Flight helicopter come in, along with a hearse and the Grim Reaper to take the deceased victim."
About 30 minutes long, the skit reached more than 3,000 students. Officers are already setting up plans for this year's Fatal Vision program, which will visit each high school in the spring.
"It was very emotional and has a lot of impact, giving students a visual image of the consequences of drinking and driving," Strickland said. "I'm extremely proud of our officers, and it's a testament of the our hard work. It shows that our program is innovative, effective and recognized internationally. Hundreds of programs applied, and to be at the top is a nice payoff for our hard work."