Receives the Outstanding Agency Award from state’s Office of Traffic Safety
Drunk driving and other traffic safety issues can be commonplace during the winter holidays, especially around New Years.
From Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, the Crystal Police Department made a total of 39 arrests for suspected driving while intoxicated, according to department staff. Officers also issued 18 seatbelt citations and made 13 arrests for driving without a license as part of Minnesota’s Towards Zero Deaths program.
Those numbers, combined with a project to install blue safety lights and other initiatives, earned the department the Outstanding Agency Award from the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety.
Bill Hammes, the safety office’s law enforcement liaison for Metro Area police departments, said that Crystal officers are fixtures at program meetings and events, and prompt when reporting their numbers to his office.
“The biggest part of this whole thing is their participation,” Hammes said of Crystal’s officers. “Hennepin County is the deadliest county in Minnesota for traffic fatalities.”
Hammes said that there were 387 deaths in the county in 2013, a number that he expects will be slightly over 350 in 2014.
“The trend has been now, for a while, to continue down. It’s because of what they do. The enforcement end of it is huge,” he said.
The zero deaths program provides police departments with grant money, which the departments then use to put extra patrol officers on the street during particularly dangerous times of the year.
During those extra shifts, Crystal officers were focused primarily on traffic safety issues, said Traffic Officer Mason Barland.
“These guys are not considered part of the shift when they’re here. They’re just doing that traffic safety role,” Barland explained. “We like to see the officers get at least two contacts per hour.”
A “contact” in that case means a traffic stop, Barland added.
Shifts typically last 6-8 hours, depending on the traffic offense that an officer is looking for. Speed or seatbelt shifts are generally six hours long, Barland said, and DWI shifts are typically eight hours long, running from 7 a.m .- 4 p.m.
During an “impaired driving wave” from Nov. 26 – Dec. 31, Crystal officers on zero deaths shifts arrested eight impaired drivers, Hammes said. He added that the highest blood alcohol content officers recorded during that time was .157 – just shy of twice the legal limit.
Hammes said his office also took note of several blue lights the city has installed at key intersections. The lights are installed on the back of existing traffic lights, and allow officers to know when the traffic light has turned red without having to actually see the red light itself.
“We looked at the five most dangerous intersections we had,” said Barland. “Some of those didn’t have a position where the officer could safely view the (traffic) light.”
The city has installed five such lights at four busy intersections: Bass Lake Road and West Broadway; Douglas Drive and West Broadway; Douglas Drive and 42nd Avenue North; and the intersection of Douglas Drive and 36th Avenue North.
“That’s not only the police department,” Hammes said of the city’s implementation of the lights. “That’s the city council, the city administration. We look for things like that, where these cities and agencies are trying to make it safer. We try to reward departments that do things like that.”
“It shows that our efforts are paying off,” Barland said of the award.
As a reward, the department will be able to choose a new piece of traffic safety equipment.
Barland said the official decision has yet to be made, but staff are leaning towards a speed measuring device that uses a single laser beam instead of the wide vector of a radar gun.
Hammes estimated the device – called “Lidar” – to be worth roughly $5,000.
Contact Joe Bowen at [email protected]