By John G. Lelacheur, Captain, New Hampshire Division of State Police
aw enforcement is always asked the question, “Can you do more with less?” In the Granite State, we have done more with less for years. Usually, our state has been one of the first to recover from a period of economic distress, but not this time. Our unemployment rate is the second lowest among the New England states,1 but many are underemployed compared with their education and skill sets, while others have given up searching for jobs.
During the most recent budget cycle, we have been asked to do even more with a whole lot less. We have left state police vacancies unfilled for longer periods of time to make up mandated “back of the budget” cuts. Other jobs were technically left on our staffing tables, but they were not funded in the budget, so we were unable to fill them. With combined vacancy levels averaging 13 percent of authorized strength, road troopers were covering two and three patrol sectors and relying on backup in a tight situation from whatever other law enforcement officers might be available. Additionally, a number of small- and mid-sized local communities experienced budget cuts and vacancies, and the phenomenon of “upshifting” occurred, with some smaller communities eliminating their midnight shifts and placing state police on call to handle routine calls and emergencies during those hours.
New Hampshire’s population has grown to more than 1.3 million.2 Until recently, we were experiencing a large influx of people migrating from other, more populous states, attracted by New Hampshire’s favorable tax climate3 and the state’s consistently lowest or second lowest crime rate in the nation.4 It is one of the most attractive states in which to work and live, and it is the most favorable state in which to raise children.5 The size of the state police, unfortunately, did not keep pace with the increase in population. New Hampshire now has 0.5 troopers per 1,000 residents, while the other New England states vary between 2.5 and 4.0 troopers per 1,000 residents. Still, in 2010 we had fewer motor vehicle fatalities than we did in 1992 when our population was just over 1 million.6
Fast forward to 2012, however, and our statistics did not look as promising. During the early spring, we experienced as many homicides as we did in all of 2011, and our motor vehicle fatalities were increasing as well.7 In addition, for the first time in the state’s history, deaths from drug overdoses eclipsed the number of persons killed in highway crashes in 4 of the last 5 years.8 Colonel Robert L. Quinn, director of the New Hampshire Division of State Police, knew that something had to be done.
The Division of State Police is primarily funded from the state’s Highway Trust Fund, which is dedicated by the state constitution to the “construction, reconstruction, and maintenance of public highways within this state, including the supervision of traffic thereon.”9 The sources of funding of the Highway Fund are gasoline and diesel fuel taxes and the fees collected by the Motor Vehicle Division (DMV) for driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations based on the weight of the vehicle, titles, court fines, and a variety of other small fees. New Hampshire’s fuel taxes are among the lowest in the region and in the country, and the per gallon rate has not been adjusted for years. The improved miles per gallon of today’s cars and trucks and the declines in sales of new vehicles, the number of two- and three-vehicle families, and the miles traveled during the current recession have led to this reduction and have resulted in budget cuts for the state police, the DMV, and the Department of Transportation (DOT)—all of which support a large portion of their operating budgets with Highway Fund and Turnpike Fund revenues.
With the cooperation of Governor’s Highway Safety Coordinator Peter M. Thomson and through strong partnerships in place with the DOT and the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, it was determined to move forward with a collection of programs under a single umbrella and with the help of federal 402 funding10 to attack the most prevalent causes of highway fatalities: drunk and drugged driving, excessive speed, and distracted driving—all of which were important emphasis areas for federal funding.
With our partners, the state police adopted the Operation Safe Commute mantra. We recognized that when citizens and tourists get into their vehicles and turn on the ignition, they have an expectation that they will arrive at their destinations safely—and we were determined to see that happen. We received enthusiastic support from the local city and town police departments and the county sheriffs. This enabled us to pick several days each month to saturate the interstate highway system and major state highways during the morning and evening commutes when many of the serious crashes were occurring. Road troopers in concert with headquarters personnel including the colonel and the entire command staff and specialty units such as Troop G, the commercial vehicle enforcement unit hit the highways during Operation Safe Commute days to add to the saturation effect and were held accountable for their share of traffic stops. Sergeant Matt Shapiro of the Aggressive Driving and Aircraft Unit partnered with the DOT to use variable message boards for hard-hitting messages such as
- “[X number of] Highway Deaths to Date—Drive Carefully, One Death Is Too Many”;
- “Arrive Alive—Don’t Text and Drive”; and
- “Don’t Drink and Ride, Use a Designated Driver,” during the annual motorcycle week and rally.
Citizens came up to troopers, complimented them on the messages boards, and told them they actually looked forward to the next message—so we knew they were having an impact. Soon, we began to see a higher compliance rate and lower speeds from the motoring public.
Along with the Combined Accident Reduction Effort (CARE),11 we placed troopers at the locations where the most crashes were occurring—not just at locations where it was easy to issue summonses. This targeted extra police visibility outweighed the idea of simply issuing a large number of summonses or warnings. We also utilized the state’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan, under which the DOT is the lead agency, along with other stakeholders, to help direct our efforts.
The use of single-engine Cessna aircraft for speed enforcement enabled us to target the “high flyers,” many of whom were clocked at speeds in excess of 90 or 100 miles per hour, and enabled ground units to pull them over without the necessity of dangerous high-speed pursuits. Although the crews’ primary emphasis was to identify excessive speeding, they also targeted vehicles that were following too closely, another frequent cause of crashes. By assigning some of the most highly motivated troopers and adjusting the pilots’ schedules, these crews were able to fly more frequent missions during peak hours, thus increasing visibility and effectiveness.
Using unmarked vehicles for patrol on certain interstates began for the first time in years. These vehicles were not painted the state police’s traditional colors. One or more unmarked cars in each troop area have been patrolling with impressive results. Their concentration has been more on aggressive and distracted drivers rather than on traditional speed enforcement. They also are appearing less frequently in contested court cases because the flagrant violators know that a trial would be fruitless.
Along with these patrol strategies, we recently undertook a technology project that allows troopers to spend more time on the road and remain visible. The days of driving to a barrack to turn in payroll or activity reports have become a thing of the past. With eticketing, summonses and warnings are electronically transmitted to troop stations, the courts, and the DMV for processing. The command staff is able to determine that summonses are being written for the most hazardous violations and at the most dangerous locations. Troopers will soon be able to turn in their payroll and all other reports from the cruisers at remote locations via cellular air cards. This practice not only saves time and gasoline; it also keeps the cruiser visible as a deterrent.
These days, it has become ever more important to use our dollars more wisely. As federal and state funds diminish, we must take advantage of every dollar we are eligible to receive and we must demonstrate success to our federal partners. The days of simply deploying troopers in large numbers have passed because we no longer have those large numbers of troopers. However, we now know that deploying a smaller number of troopers, partnering with local police and sheriffs, using public information devices, and targeting specific problems at the times and places indicated by data, can be an effective public safety strategy. ♦
1U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Regional and State Unemployment (Annual) News Release,” Economic News Release, February 29, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/srgune.htm (accessed October 31, 2012).
2“New Hampshire,” State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/33000.html (accessed October 31, 2012).
3New Hampshire is the only state without either a sales tax or an income tax.
4“Safest and Most Dangerous States, 2010,” Infoplease, http://www.infoplease.com/us/states/most-dangerous-states.html (accessed October 31, 2012).
5“Kids Count Overall Rank,” Kids Count Mobile Data Center, updated July 2012, http://bit.ly/TLCZ1a (accessed November 7, 2012).
6George Hutton, “New Hampshire Population by City and Town—1990–1999,” last updated August 1, 2000, http://www.nh.gov/oep/programs/DataCenter/Population/90web.htm (accessed October 31, 2012); and U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012, table 1104, Traffic Fatalities by State: 1990 to 2009, http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s1103.pdf (accessed October 31, 2012).
7“Spike in NH Fatalities Prompts Safety Warnings,” Union Leader, September 11, 2012, http://www.unionleader.com/article/20120911/NEWS07/709119915 (accessed October 31, 2012).
8New Hampshire Governor’s Commission on alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment, Call to Action: Responding to New Hampshire’s Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic (January 2012), 5, http://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dcbcs/bdas/documents/calltoactionnh.pdf (accessed November 7, 2012).
9New Hampshire Const. art. VI.
10Highway Safety Programs, 23 U.S.C. § 402, Pub. L. 85–767, § 1, Aug. 27, 1958, 72 Stat. 885, 240, http://uscode.house.gov/pdf/2005/2005usc23.pdf (accessed October 31, 2012).
11“Combined Accident Reduction Effort (CARE),” Operation CARE, http://www.careofnorthamerica.org (accessed October 31, 2012).
Please cite as:
John G. Lelacheur, "Collaborative Enforcement during a Fiscal Crunch," Highway Safety Initiatives, The Police Chief 79 (December 2012): 92–93.