Prioritizing traffic safety can be a challenge for many police departments. Often other public safety problems, such as crime and drug violence, take precedence. But, traffic safety is a community safety problem that needs to be addressed.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2011, the total number of crash fatalities equaled 32,267. In 2011, 42 percent of speeding drivers had a blood alcohol concentration of .08 grams per deciliter or higher in fatal crashes compared to only 16 percent of non-speeding drivers involved in fatal crashes. With national statistics like these, agencies like the Duluth, Minnesota, Police Department (DPD) have started to focus on combating the often deadly mix of speed and alcohol.
From 2009-2011, alcohol-related traffic fatalities were on the rise in Minnesota (MN), totaling 1,200 statewide. The MN Department of Public Safety released its list of the most dangerous counties for impaired driving, and Duluth, MN, Saint Louis’ largest county, ranked No. 2. It was a ranking that the DPD was determined to tackle head on.
Through the use of CompStat and Data Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS), a program created by NHTSA, the DPD adopted a data-and-location-based approach to traffic enforcement. The combination of these two programs allowed the DPD to “track more [data] about who did what, when, where and how,” (Duluth Case Study, 2013) ultimately reducing the number of speeding and impaired driving crashes in Duluth, 2,726 in 2012, down 4.6 percent from 2,858 in 2009.
In 2010 the DPD was appointed to run the Lake Superior Traffic Enforcement Team, a coalition of several local law enforcement agencies, which conducted Target Zero Death (TZD) patrols. Launched in 2003 the TZD patrols were not reaching the established goals of reducing speed and impaired traffic crashes. When the DPD integrated their data- and location – based strategies to the TZD patrols, within two years the TZD was successfully reducing speed- and alcohol-related fatalities in and around Duluth.
The DPD contributes its successes to five factors 1) performance benchmarking, 2) leadership, 3) high-visibility enforcement, 4) location-based deployment, and 5) inter-agency collaboration. These successes can be seen in the results: in 2010 the DPD made 273 DUI arrests, down 38 percent from 441 in 2009. Of those, 17 were from speed stops, down 46 percent from 32 percent in 2009. While it may seem as though Duluth is not enforcing traffic laws, a closer look reflects a change in driver behaviors because of rich enforcement.