Friday, February 15, 2008

Biggest threat to public safety

There are no TV shows about it. I can't think of any movies or books either. By far and away, though it's the biggest threat to public safety in our City, State, and nation.

Traffic crashes.

Last year, they killed 256 people in Nebraska. By comparison, there were 53 murders. In Lincoln, there were 9,713 traffic crashes in 2007, injuring over 2,500 people. I don't have the data right now on the total property loss, but it was huge. It is a threat that effects more people than anything else. That's why traffic enforcement and traffic control is an important part of our job.

Fred Zwonechek, the administrator of the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety sent a chart to me a couple of weeks ago showing the fatal crash trend in Nebraska back to 1980, benchmarked against the number of vehicle miles travelled (click to enlarge):

That's an impressive reduction. Had the rate remained the same, 152 more people would have died in Nebraska traffic crashes last year. Lincoln's traffic accident rate has also been falling over this same time period, although it's been pretty much unchanged since 2003.

Declining crash rates are attributable to a variety of causes: better roadway engineering, anti-lock brakes, vigorous law enforcement (especially drunk driving), and graduated drivers licenses all come to mind. In addition to those things that reduce the number of crashes, other factors influence the number of fatalities and the number and severity of injuries: seat belts, child restraints, air bags, and helmets are all obvious, and have had a huge impact.

My first few years in policing were spent as a traffic specialist. I was a member of a six-person Alcohol Safety Action Program squad that handled 1992 DWI arrests in 1974. Remarkably, four of us are still at LPD: myself, Jon Morris, Steve Wetzel, and Mike Garnett. By the middle of 1975, I was a motor officer on the second shift, dedicated to investigating traffic crashes and writing tons and tons of tickets. Traffic is in my blood, but more importantly, it's critical to our mission of providing services that promote a safe and secure community. You can expect it to continue to be an important emphasis.


Anonymous said...

Excellent timing for this topic, considering yesterday's events a couple of states to the East. Statistical spikes are just that, but sustained chronic problems are quite another. Something people seem all-too-willing to live with, deaths from automobile accidents kill just about as many Americans each year as did the entire Viet Nam war, and every month, vehicle crashes kills more Americans than has Gulf War II to date. For some reason though, you don't see the press front-paging the number of traffic fatalities every time it rolls over another thousand (well, it'd be a once per week thing, wouldn't it).

Like I've written before, drunk driving and too-fast-for-the-situation driving (as in "watch this new Toyota MR2 take this stretch of twisty mountain road in record time") were a major cause of death and serious injury when I was at Camp Pendleton, generally outstripping training fatalities (which were extremely rare). When you lost it on the two-lane "boy racer" roads around there, you generally were in for a sustained rollover down an embankment. While I was there, I don't think we lost one Marine on any live-fire exercise - but they shop-vacced quite a few out of twisted automobiles off-base in the surrounding area.

Here is one take on causes of death, especially accidental death, press treatment of those, and public perception. His numbers are a few years old, but I wager thast the trends still hold. We've all got to go sometime, so hopefully we try keep it all in perspective.

Anonymous said...

After years of seeing idiotic driving on the streets of Lincoln, I'd like to see some unmarked police cars aggresively going after these people. I think some of the worst behavior goes on on the outlying arterials - Pine Lake Road, Superior, Cornhusker Highway, Old Cheney, and the worst of all, North 84th. Speeding at least 10 mph over the limits, aggressive lane changes, and running lights that have been red for quite some time are commonplace. But, when a police car is in sight, these same idiots turn into angels. Hide someone in the old K-Mart on Highway 2, and just watch the semis blaze through red lights. I'm sick of it!

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 10:44-

Please refer to this previous post.

I've repeatedly challenged anyone to find a more productive police force of this tiny size serving a City of Lincoln's population. Nobody's taken me up on it. I don't think there's much more to be squeezed.

By the way, unmarked traffic enforcement is a bad, bad idea in this day and age. Low profile lightbars, and motors--yes, but definately not plain wrapper vehicles in traffic enforcement. Impersonating a police offiers cases are just too huge of an issue.

Anonymous said...

Ok, here is an idea. I've seen as many as three cruisers working radar. Why not have a unmarked car just out on the streets, and when they spot an infraction, radio the nearest marked car to pull them over, and cite them? won't work for speeding, but stop signs, reckless driving, and maybe even teeth brushing. Since I was the one who made the comment you replied to, I'll gladly throw in my two cents worth. BTW, my comments were not made as a critiscism of the LPD. You do a good job here, and I realize you have limited resources. I also realize the problem of unmarked cars. I'm not suggesting you have a fleet out there, but one or two might make things interesting.

Anonymous said...

Chief, Can you explain why there is a good percentage of officers on this department that think they don't have to run traffic enforcement? Then when they are confronted, they throw out the "quota" threat. It is our job to run traffic and stop violators!!
This attitude runs from newer to middle and older officers.
It's kind of like getting hired at a meat packing plant and then once your hired saying you don't want to work with knives.
A blind bat could find a couple traffic violations in a shift.
And for everyone's information..No I am not a captain or sgt but an officer

Anonymous said...

One of the things I love are the traffic lights with the countdowns to the YELLOW. I see them at a few intersections and I think they are great. Do you know if it is cost effective for every controlled intersection in Lincoln to have them? As an ex trucker I can say that these lights are one of the best thing out there to make driving a Big Rig safer.

BTW Anonymous 9:53, that is a great link to accidental deaths.

Gun Nut

Anonymous said...

If traffic patrol was in your blood then why did it take so long to bring the motors back? I use to see a University motorcycle and thought it was wrong that the city didn't have any at the time. Where did the campus bike go?

Their, the Lincoln motorcycles, impact is a great one and I would hope to keep seeing them in my neighborhood. Those traffic officers in my neighborhood have really made an impact for the good.

Anonymous said...

Traffic is important? I know that if you go out & make an effort to combat the DWI problem, then you better watch out when your captain gets the overtime that comes from the administrative license revocation hearing & court. It has been my experience, & others on the department, that you quickly become a problem officer that needs to be dealt with. I agree wholeheartedly that our department can make great inroads in dealing with this problem. However, since the team captains are more concerned with the overtime than with public safety, very few officers are going to put forth the extra effort.

Chris Zeeb said...

Chief I have to tell you after living in the Omaha area for many years (and OPD does not enforce traffic laws), it was a rude awakening when I came to Lincoln. I had to learn to watch my speed. Most people just get angry about getting speeding tickets, of course it doesn't make your day.... But I will give credit to LPD for doing their job and making me slow down and follow the speed limits. LPD enforces traffic like no other Dept I have seen. Nice Job!

Now... Since auto accidents are the biggest threat to public safety, and cars are responsible for this, we need to immediately quit issuing licenses for these deadly weapons. We need to restrict ownership of vehicles more, and keep them out of "safe places" such as school zones, colleges/universities and shopping malls.

We should make residents get a permit to purchase a car and go through the appropriate background checks before they are allowed to purchase one.

We should not honor drivers licenses from other states either, because who knows how deadly these residents of other states will be with their cars.

Sorry I couldn't resist! Keep up the nice work in your Dept.

Chris Zeeb

Traffic Guru said...

It needs to be explained that the Chief's indication of a "plain warpper" is a police cruiser with NO decals or markings - similiar to an undercover / plain clothes vehicle. Lincoln used to have "slick-top" cruisers in the Traffic Unit that WERE marked, but without top-mounted lighting. This link from shows the benefit to those type of cruisers to address exactly the agressive driving behavior people are talking about...

Unfortunately, I'm not computer literate enough to make this a "link"'ll have to cut and paste.

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 12:26-

We do just that regularly. Well, actually it's probably more common to have the "call" officer just on foot, rather than sitting in an unmarked car--you can get out a little closer to the street without being obvious.

Anonymous 1:55

For 30 years, I walked by the photographs of Frank Leyden and George Welter everyday--motor officers killed in the line of duty. I worked with plenty of people like Ray Kansier, Ron Tussing, and Ron VanMeter who were lucky to be alive. I am among them.

I had to be convinced that improvements in training, attitude, and supervision were such that we could restart a motorcycle unit safely. Although I'm incredibly pleased with the record, I still know that this is far, far more dangerous than a Crown Victoria.

Anonymous said...

Here's one example of why the Chief might not be crazy about totally unmarked vehicles doing traffic stops:

Fox 12 Morning Anchor Foils Possible Attack

In Idaho, impersonating an Officer is a felony, like it should be here (Nebraska only considers it a misdemeanor).

Anonymous said...

I have been riding motorcycles for close to 50 years. This winter is the first time since I was 13 years old that I went a full month without riding my motorcycle. There has just been too much ice on the streets this winter. Plus I am getting to old & slow and bruise easily! Even with studded tires riding a motorcycle during the winter is extra hazardous. As much as I love motorcycles I would hate to HAVE to ride when the roads are treacherous.

The Motor Patrol officers have my respect. They are doing a tough job.

Gun Nut

Anonymous said...

This event caused more fatalities that Thursday's headline-grabber did, but my hunch says it will only get a minor fraction of the national media spotlight.

Anonymous said...

I listen to the scanner everyday, I think LPD is doing a great job getting the speeders to slow down. I remember a time when LSO and I think LPD was involved with putting an marked car on a street with a dummy sitting in it. Fake radar gun as well. you could sit back and watch these dummys frontends drop to the ground. LOL. I think a bit more use of these in the school areas would be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Heck use the old cruisers that dont run and have them towed for free, per the towing contract anyway!

Keep up the good work,

Local CDL Driver

Anonymous said...

I have the unfortunate pleasure of working with a relative of the fatality victim of yesturday in Val. Knowing the family as I do, I hope that drug use was not a reason for the crash! Country roads are in my opinion more dangerous then city streets, espesially cresting a hill. Speed along with loose gravle generally play a role as I'm sure was in this case. When young people die because we as parents and instructors have failed them, then we have only ourselves to blame. How can we expect our kids to be good, honest and law abiding if we dont take the time to care for them, guide and instruct them. In todays corperate world where time is money and the attitude of "if you dont want to work the long hours then we'll find someone who will" I can see why some parents have given up. Long hours, less pay and mounting bills cause more stress then anything else in the family. Everything else wrong can somehow stemm from the afroementioned. I speak from experience, I work and average of 65 hours a week and my wife puts in her 40. we have an 9 year old but fortunately we both realize what needs to be done to keep her in check. I can only hope that after all the extra hours and work that I do, that I am still alive to watch her grow past her teen years to become a productive adult and not one of the road side statistics.

Anonymous said...

I remember an old motorcyle cop named Clifton Koch who operated under the theory that the quicker one cleared an intersection the less chance one had of encountering and coming into contact with any pesky cross-traffic...

Anonymous said...

This is pretty far off-topic, but are A8-014582, A8-014548, and A8-014589 related? This seems quite like a series of incidents that occurred in the same neighborhood about 4 months ago, but have since scrolled off of Crime View Community.

Tom Casady said...

Geez, 2:09, would you please quit reading my mind?!?

I read that report this morning, and thought this might make a nice Monday blog post. These cases are all related, and all appear to be related to the offenses I referred to back in November.

Good catch!

Anonymous said...

If we drivers of Lincoln are doing our part to lower the deaths per year in motor vehicle accidents, why can't we be rewarded by the removal of the "wheel tax"? That'd be decent. Thanks. Also, I read this blog daily!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, that solidifies the "signs point to yes" indication from my powerful and mysterious Magic 8-Ball. I'll wait till Monday before I start ripping on disinterested landlords and encourage beating them over the head with the most punitive provisions of 9.20.045

Anonymous said...

Not surprisingly, LB812 failed to advance . If we were serious about preventing accidental death, we'd make not wearing a seat belt a primary offense, not just an add-on if you get stopped for something else. There must be quite a few politically-connected bigwigs that hate buckling up!