By James Schweitzer, Director, South Carolina Department of Public Safety, Blythewood, South Carolina
orking together toward a common goal” is a phrase often overused, but the adage is put regularly into practice in South Carolina, where state and local law enforcement agencies combine efforts to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries on the state’s roadways. Agencies work through an established system called the South Carolina Law Enforcement Network (SCLEN).
This spirit of collaboration is not a result of happenstance but rather a concentrated move by the South Carolina Department of Public Safety (SCDPS) to address highway safety and improve working relationships among all law enforcement entities.
According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for example, South Carolina has one of the highest alcohol related fatality rates in the United States. With impaired driving so prevalent in this state, teaming up to tackle this serious crime helps state and local law enforcement agencies better protect motorists on our roadways. Other traffic-related problems such as speeding, aggressive driving, non use of safety belts, and so forth are addressed as well.
How the SCLEN Works
With the use of federal grant funding, the SCDPS Office of Highway Safety (OHS) formalized the SCLEN in 2003. Through participation in the network, law enforcement agencies take part in highway safety campaigns and initiatives coordinated by the OHS.
The SCLEN started in one region of South Carolina and now operates in all 46 counties. Each law enforcement network is funded in part through federal grants administered by the state’s highway safety office. The system is organized into 16 individual law enforcement networks (LENs) grouped according to the state’s 16 judicial circuits, with one agency serving as the host or main point of contact.
Improving communication between agencies was the initial goal of the SCLEN. But member agencies quickly realized that they could also benefit from combining resources of other agencies to tackle problems in their own communities.
Through participation in the SCLEN, state and local law enforcement officers have the opportunity to work together, communicate, and coordinate, combining their resources toward the common goal of making South Carolina roadways safer through enforcement and public education. Each LEN focuses on the issues facing the agencies within its network, which allows agencies to tailor solutions to traffic issues for individual communities.
Each LEN holds regular meetings that are open to law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and other highway safety advocates. The networks augment individual agencies’ traffic enforcement activities by giving them an avenue for networking, training, and sharing ideas with officers from other agencies within their LEN. Meetings frequently involve guest speakers, such as solicitors or Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) representatives, to name a few.
More than half of the state’s law enforcement agencies participate as members, but this figure points to one perplexing problem facing the SCLEN: getting more local agencies to recognize the benefits of working with others and become an active part of the network.
The SCDPS has set a goal to increase participation of law enforcement agencies in the SCLEN to 75 percent within the next year. This goal is admittedly a challenge, but the SCDPS is implementing new ideas and strategies to promote the SCLEN.
In 2006, the SCDPS launched a Web site for the SCLEN, www.sclen.org . Each network has a page on the site where information related to SCLEN activities is posted. Staff members in the OHS serve as law enforcement liaisons to the state’s local law enforcement agencies. They promote and coordinate activities for the SCLEN.
The OHS also initiated a detailed incentive program through the SCLEN to crack down on impaired driving, safety belt nonuse, and other traffic related issues. Winning law enforcement agencies will receive one of six marked, law enforcement–equipped Dodge Chargers. Each of the six vehicles will be outfitted with the SCLEN logo, and the six winners must use their prizes for traffic enforcement for a specified period of time. Several agencies that had rarely or never participated in the SCLEN have signed up to take part in this sustained enforcement effort for a chance to win one of the vehicles.
OHS liaisons work to recruit other agencies and to maintain relations with current members. Without the SCLEN in place, it would be a challenge for state troopers to meet all the demands of ensuring safety on our roadways.
Partnerships forged through the SCLEN have helped increase the coordination of enforcement efforts with local agencies. For example, the SCLEN in the northern part of the state coordinates with Georgia law enforcement officials during the July 4 holiday weekend to crack down on aggressive drivers along the I-85 corridor, which connects the two states.
Joining Forces to Confront DUI
Impaired driving affects every community in South Carolina, urban or rural. It is estimated that in South Carolina one person is injured or killed in a DUI-related collision every 2.2 hours.
The SCDPS recognizes that it cannot tackle the problem alone; it is clear that collaboration with local law enforcement agencies through the SCLEN is vital to saving lives and educating the public about DUI.
Severe state budget cuts this decade reduced the number of state troopers available to actively pursue and remove drunk drivers from our roadways. Several initiatives were put into place to address the DUI problem, including specialized DUI enforcement teams and the purchase of mobile blood alcohol–testing units, which allow law enforcement officers to administer blood alcohol tests at the site of the arrest.
Local law enforcement agencies take full advantage of these units for enforcement and community events. Through the SCLEN Web site, local law enforcement agencies can reserve one of the units for their activities.
To recognize the efforts of local law enforcement agencies in confronting the DUI issue in our state, an annual DUI law enforcement recognition ceremony to honor officers and agencies is held. One of the 16 SCLENs is chosen as the best each year during this ceremony.
The benefits of the SCLEN are numerous and unmistakable. This system helps to provide results that everyone wants:reduced rates of crashes, injuries, and deaths on our highways.■