The enforcers

Drivers on Super Bowl weekend may have noticed more black and yellow Washington County Sheriff’s Office cars on the usual. And it won’t be the last time this year that the office has extra manpower for traffic enforcement.

A grant from the Ohio Traffic Safety Office is enabling the department to pay deputies overtime hours for traffic enforcement during times of heavy traffic risk, such as Super Bowl weekend.

The $35,000 High Visibility Traffic Grant pays for 700 extra hours of traffic enforcement per year, giving busy deputies an opportunity to spend more time on the roads and, in turn, make them safer, said Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Roger Doak, who oversees the grant administration.

The funds pay officers for overtime hours spent enforcing speeding, distracted driving, seat belt, and drunk driving laws, said Doak. Typically officers spend so much time following up on criminal complaints and cases that they do not have much time for traffic enforcement, he said.

“This allows them to go out and do those things they wouldn’t normally have time for,” he said.

Counties are eligible to apply for the grant based on the number of fatalities they experience, said Doak.

“The idea is to make an impact on those fatals, to reduce crashes,” he said.

Last year in Washington County there were nine traffic fatalities recorded in eight crashes.

The grant requires that the sheriff’s office spend a certain number of the grant hours joining the Ohio State Highway Patrol on ten national blitz campaigns

The blitzes coincide with major events like the Super Bowl, local proms, Halloween, and Christmas.

The grant enables a great road safety partnership between the state patrol and sheriff’s office, said Lt. Carlos Smith, OSHP Marietta Post commander.

“I think it’s great the sheriff’s office is helping us take a proactive role in our mission. Without the Sheriff’s Office’s help, we probably wouldn’t be able to handle all the traffic issues,” said Smith.

The snowy weather during Super Bowl weekend curtailed the sheriff’s office’s blitz hours a bit, said WSCO Capt. Troy Hawkins.

“We were short on some of the hours because of the weather. Weather conditions made traffic a lot less than it is normally,” said Hawkins.

The next blitz will be around St. Patrick’s Day. There are also a block of hours that can be used outside of the normal blitz times.

The grant is also good for deputies, who enjoy the overtime and the chance to get out from behind a desk, said Detective Sgt. Scott Parks.

“We don’t get to work a whole lot of traffic,” said Parks.

Parks, the sheriff’s office specialist in computer analysis, spends a lot of his day analyzing and investigation electronic data for things such as sex offender violations.

“I work at a desk a lot. It’s nice to get out of the office. In a way, (working traffic) takes you back to your roots as a law enforcement officer,” said Parks.

Similarly, other deputies spend a lot of time responding to, following up on, and filling out reports on criminal and civil complaints, he said.

The grant is nothing new for the department. The department has been receiving a similar traffic enforcement grant for over eight years, said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.

To reward departments for active participation in the grant, the Ohio Traffic Safety Office also spends some of its funds to purchase equipment awarded to participants.

Last month the WCSO was awarded a $2,200 LaserSpeed device by Michael Brining, law enforcement liaison for the Ohio Traffic Safety Office, for their participation in last year’s grant.

The department was in the top one-third of grant recipients statewide as far as active participation goes, said Brining.

“The Ohio Traffic Safety Office gets money to purchase equipment. It saves the local taxpayers’ dollars,” he said.

The LaserSpeed device is a multipurpose tool that will be put to good use by the department, said Mincks.

“This is great for us as far as school zones and reduced speed areas in the county,” he said.

All 88 counties are eligible for the grants, which are based on the federal fiscal year and run October through September, said Brining. This year 67 county sheriff’s offices applied and received a grant, he said.