By Ricky H. Rich, Director of Special Operations, Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, Atlanta, Georgia
rom eight-lane metropolitan interchanges to icy mountain switchbacks and from rainy coastal highways to foggy two-lane rural roads, the Georgia highway system presents a special challenge to officers working in traffic law enforcement. Officers from more than 580 Georgia law enforcement agencies log long patrol miles in the largest state in terms of land mass east of the Mississippi River and routinely crisscross jurisdictional lines knowing only the state of Texas can count more counties on their road to highway safety.
For traffic enforcement campaigns to succeed in reducing crashes, injuries, and fatalities on a statewide basis here, it seemed essential to increase communication and cooperation among agencies, regardless of size, resources, or regional politics. For this reason, a decade ago the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) tapped into the common bond among all law enforcement officers and signed on to save lives. The GOHS created the Georgia traffic enforcement networks (GATENs) a region or two at a time with the mission of improving highway safety communication between agencies, encouraging better traffic enforcement training, and building a comprehensive statewide traffic enforcement team.
The Georgia GOHS Law Enforcement Services Team, which manages the GATEN program, includes the GOHS director of special operations, the GOHS law enforcement coordinator, a public affairs officer, and an administrative assistant; one detached Georgia state trooper; four part-time law enforcement liaisons; and 32 dedicated volunteers (16 network coordinators and 16 assistant coordinators). The dedicated leadership of the network coordinators, the assistant coordinators, and the liaisons is the most important key to the success of the GATEN concept.
In all, the Georgia GOHS has created 16 regional traffic enforcement networks that encompass all 159 Georgia counties. These Georgia networks are used constantly to mobilize agencies efficiently for statewide traffic law enforcement, from Click It or Ticket and Operation Zero Tolerance DUI campaigns to Georgia’s 100 Days of Summer HEAT (Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic) speed and aggressive-driving initiatives.
The traffic enforcement networks are made up of state and local traffic enforcement officers and prosecutors from each region of the state. The operation of each network is supervised by full-time law enforcement officers, who volunteer their time and efforts as coordinators and assistant coordinators. The level of support from these dedicated officers, their agencies, and agency heads is simply unsurpassed. Each month the traffic enforcement networks meet in every region of the state to provide information, training, and networking opportunities to the attending officers. Prosecutors and judges often attend regional network meetings to offer assistance for traffic enforcement, training, and initiatives. The meetings also attract partners from nontraditional traffic enforcement agencies such as the state’s Department of Natural Resources, Department of Corrections, and Motor Carrier Compliance Division; college police departments; and military police. As such, the GATENs have become an outstanding networking, training, and communication tool for Georgia’s traffic enforcement community.
In an effort to communicate timely traffic enforcement information about training opportunities, legislative updates, and other pertinent issues, the GOHS has established an e-mail listserve in partnership with Atlanta’s Emory University to link the entire GATEN membership. Regular e-mail bulletins to all participating law enforcement officers cover traffic enforcement policies, court decisions, and legal updates and advise officers across the state about member activities.
The following information outlines the creation of the traffic enforcement network concept and implementation in Georgia as well as the basis for its continued success. This article is intended as a “how-to” guide for other states interested in establishing similar models for organizing and mobilizing law enforcement agencies into a comprehensive statewide team for effective traffic enforcement. Even though some aspects of Georgia’s experience and implementation process would not be practical in all states, the same challenges and issues are shared by the entire law enforcement community.
Vision of a Coalition
In 1997, the GOHS recognized the need to build coalitions among law enforcement agencies throughout the state of Georgia. High-visibility enforcement was then and still remains the key to saving lives on U.S. roadways. In any state, communication, training, knowledge, cooperation, and networking are vital tools to maintaining a high level of effectiveness and efficiency in traffic enforcement.
As GOHS law enforcement coordinator, the author was assigned the task of developing a plan to improve communication among hundreds of Georgia’s traffic enforcement officers. There are more than 580 individual law enforcement agencies around the state. The plan was to encourage increased cooperation and networking among those local police and sheriff’s agencies and then to build better working relationships between those agencies and the Georgia State Patrol. The long-term goal was to build partnerships between the GOHS and all of Georgia’s law enforcement agencies.
Challenges and Solutions
The problems in Georgia related to traffic enforcement were not unique: they included communication, training, and coordination. The following scenarios and solutions established the basis for the vision of the traffic enforcement network concept.
Diversity of Agencies: Georgia has more than 580 law enforcement agencies across the state, serving diverse population centers in dissimilar geographical areas, with varying levels of staffing and equipment; for these reasons communication among these agencies presents a genuine challenge. Law enforcement agencies in metropolitan areas would receive legal updates, court decisions, and other important traffic-related information six months or more before agencies in rural Georgia would receive the identical data or decisions.
Access to Training: Not all agencies had the same level of access to advanced traffic enforcement training or even basic information to alert them to what training courses were available. More officers needed training in standardized field sobriety testing, radar certification, and conducting legal traffic stops and legal sobriety checkpoints. In addition, there was a need for other advanced traffic enforcement–related training that would ensure more convictions as well as greater professionalism and accountability among officers.
As with most states, the majority of Georgia’s law enforcement agencies have fewer than 10 officers. A hardship is created for such agencies when they send officers across the state to the Georgia Police Academy for advanced training. Georgia needed to create a system that would allow regional traffic enforcement training to be conducted at no cost to these agencies, which would generate greater interest in high-visibility traffic enforcement and better-trained traffic enforcement officers statewide.
Cooperation among Jurisdictions: As in other states, numerous local law enforcement agencies in Georgia conduct great traffic enforcement initiatives within their own jurisdictions. But because most of the campaigns were not cooperative, statewide efforts, they had little impact on the overall problem of traffic fatalities. Most agencies were so strapped for resources and manpower that traffic enforcement was not a high priority. Smaller agencies did not have the manpower or resources to conduct an effective checkpoint or high-visibility enforcement campaign. Multiagency partnerships, cooperation, and networking had to improve before a true difference could be made on a statewide basis.
Solutions: These challenges led the GOHS to identify three specific goals related to the GATEN project:
- Improve highway safety and traffic enforcement communication among Georgia’s law enforcement agencies
- Improve and encourage statewide traffic enforcement training
- Build Georgia’s traffic enforcement officers into one comprehensive team
Relying on his prior experience as a narcotics agent working with Georgia’s law enforcement narcotics and intelligence networks, the GOHS law enforcement coordinator decided to apply a similar operational philosophy of information and manpower sharing with Georgia’s traffic enforcement officers. Law enforcement officers would come together once a month to pass on information, share ideas, network, socialize, and swap “war stories.” Throwing in a little barbecue completed an unquestionable recipe for success.
Selecting Regions and Coordinators
The first step in the process of organizing the GATENs was to select the regions that each traffic enforcement network would cover. Convenience to the officers attending the meetings is extremely important. In consideration of the size of the network region, travel time from any law enforcement agency in the region to network meetings should not exceed one hour. Consideration was also given to counties already working together or those that had established working relationships.
Figure 1. MATEN members gather for a Clicket or Ticket news conference at Turner Field. The Georgia State Capital and Atlanta skyline are in the Background.
Metro Atlanta Pilot Program: The first traffic enforcement network in Georgia was established in the metropolitan Atlanta area on November 17, 1997, as a pilot program. The network region would include seven metro Atlanta counties and would be known as the Metro Atlanta Traffic Enforcement Network (MATEN). Sergeant John Gardner was the commander of the DeKalb County Police Department STAR (Strategic Traffic Accident Reduction) Team, an aggressive impaired-driving task force. Sergeant Gardner envisioned establishing a network of DUI task forces in the metropolitan Atlanta area to meet and network about impaired-driving enforcement issues. Gardner, with his dedication to highway safety, was the perfect charter coordinator for the traffic enforcement network pilot project in metro Atlanta. The newly created network would address all metro Atlanta traffic enforcement issues, not just DUI.
Once the region and coordinator for the pilot network were established, a date and a location for a kickoff meeting were selected. Letters of invitation from the director of the GOHS were mailed to all law enforcement agency heads within the region, asking them and their traffic enforcement commanders and staff to attend. The GOHS provided meals for the event.
The agenda for the first meeting established the GOHS’s vision for statewide traffic enforcement networks. The GOHS law enforcement coordinator described the network benefits that were anticipated for these new partners. The networks were expected to become both a vehicle for disseminating GOHS information and announcements to member agencies and a sounding board for participants to voice their needs and concerns directly to the GOHS.
The first meeting agenda was highlighted by remarks from the GOHS director describing the level of commitment from the State of Georgia and the GOHS as well as promising program support from federal partners at the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for this new network concept.
It was then time to introduce the new network coordinator. The coordinator explained the direction and vision for the regional network and its role for improving traffic enforcement in the region. The network coordinator also polled the attendees to determine the best meeting times, dates, and locations. It is important to note that once the network coordinator assumed direction over the first meeting, Georgia’s first traffic enforcement network belonged to the member agencies and not to the GOHS.
Even though the GOHS was instrumental in establishing Georgia’s first traffic enforcement network and would continue to support and provide statewide direction, the officers participating in the network, under the leadership of their coordinator and assistant coordinator, were empowered to make day-to-day decisions for network operations, activities, training, meeting times, and locations. Though at first glance simple matters, deciding where and when to conduct future meetings of their own and selecting the first host agency were the most important steps taken at this first meeting.
GATENs are encouraged to rotate meeting locations from agency to agency throughout the region, giving each jurisdiction the opportunity to host a network meeting, as well as the prestige associated with this event. After the initial kickoff meeting hosted by the GOHS, host agencies of future meetings or their corporate partners were to provide meals for the attendees.
The first MATEN meeting tallied 75 law enforcement professionals in attendance, a number confirming the popularity of the GATEN initiative among metropolitan law enforcement agencies. Attendance grew with each consecutive meeting, and the response from officers and their command staffs was very encouraging and positive. Traffic enforcement initiatives increased as relationships between many agencies benefited from the regular contact and coordinated efforts. Combined with the traffic enforcement network coordinator’s well-known dedication to highway safety, the programs, training, and information offered at network meetings quickly became a drawing card for traffic enforcement officers in the region.
Second Network Established: After the success of the MATEN program, the GOHS located another strong coordinator candidate along the state’s southeastern seaboard to help launch Georgia’s second traffic enforcement network. Lieutenant Luther Hires enjoyed a career-long reputation as a dedicated traffic enforcement and highway safety advocate with the Jesup Police Department in southeast Georgia and was well respected by his peers across the entire Georgia coastal region.
Lieutenant Hires agreed to coordinate the new Coastal Area Traffic Enforcement Network (CATEN). A kickoff meeting was held in Jesup on April 22, 1998, with a response from southeast Georgia law enforcement officers that mirrored the metropolitan Atlanta experience.
Even though officer needs and issues in rural south Georgia frequently differ substantially from those in the metro Atlanta area, it was observed that the traffic enforcement network concept could quickly create common bonds among all of Georgia’s traffic enforcement officers, irrespective of regional differences.
Further Network Development: Over the course of the next two years, 14 more traffic enforcement networks were organized around the state; eventually, a total of 16 regions covered the map of Georgia. As the regions were identified, leadership was selected, and kickoff meetings were held following the blueprint of the MATEN and CATEN programs.
Once the new regions were established, it was important for the GOHS to monitor their early stages of development to ensure that the fledgling networks maintained enough flexibility to fit the traffic enforcement needs of their member agencies. Officer attendance at network meetings is extremely important, so meetings were scheduled and regions grouped to encourage maximum ease of participation.
For instance, the GATEN map began with 14 regions, some composed of as many as 20 counties. But then, travel time to meetings became impractical for many officers and regions in the southeast coastal areas as well as in northern Georgia, where a mountain range ran down the middle of one region, making punctual travel difficult. As a result, the network map was redrawn. Today, the traffic enforcement regions range in size from 7 to 13 counties, with an average of 10 counties per region. Now officers will not miss a hot meal or the first speaker if they have to drive to the far end of the network.
Developing Leadership Infrastructure
There is no doubt that the success and longevity of Georgia’s traffic enforcement networks are the result of outstanding leadership. Each member of the leadership team must have a passion for traffic enforcement and highway safety. The decade of success behind the GATEN concept is the measure of proof that Sergeant Gardner and Lieutenant Hires were ideal charter coordinators because they brought that level of passion and dedication to this lifesaving project.
As Georgia’s subsequent network regions were identified, chiefs of police, sheriffs, and traffic enforcement commanders were contacted in search of officers interested in starting traffic enforcement networks for their regions. Through this ongoing search, it became clear to the GOHS law enforcement coordinator that the ideal network coordinator would come from the ranks of traffic enforcement supervisors. These individuals possess the skills, knowledge, and leadership qualities to coordinate a traffic enforcement network effectively.
Each year during the development of the GATENs, the GOHS made special presentations about the traffic enforcement network concept to audiences at the annual chiefs of police and sheriff’s association conferences. As Georgia chiefs and sheriffs learned of opportunities for developing traffic enforcement networks in their parts of the state, they often volunteered their agencies to serve as the lead regional agencies and assigned their own personnel as charter coordinators. It became a prestigious honor for a law enforcement agency to be the department hosting a regional traffic enforcement network. Traffic enforcement network coordinators in Georgia now include leaders from chiefs of police to sergeants, deputy sheriffs, and leadership from the Georgia State Patrol.
Traffic enforcement network coordinators’ duties entail all network functions and responsibilities, including the following:
- Coordinating and scheduling monthly network meetings
- Disseminating information from the GOHS to the network
- Coordinating enforcement activities and blitzes as initiated by the GOHS (such as Click It or Ticket, Operation Zero Tolerance, and so on)
- Coordinating traffic enforcement training courses for officers as proposed by the GOHS
- Assisting the GOHS in obtaining enforcement activity reports from agencies within their respective regions during mobilization periods
- Scheduling, issuing, and keeping inventory of network equipment
- Documenting all network activities, providing justification for all federal funds expended for any network function or use
- Maintaining a network meeting log, including information on incentive equipment distribution and network attendance
Perhaps one of the most important duties of network coordinators is to select fellow traffic enforcement officers to perform in the volunteer role of assistant network coordinators. The assistant coordinators, like the coordinators, are sworn law enforcement officers volunteering their time to provide leadership to the traffic enforcement networks. Assistant coordinators should share the same dedication, passion, and leadership abilities as coordinators. Coordinating the activities of a network is a tremendous job, and the purpose of the assistant coordinators is to assist the coordinators with those duties.
Communication and coordination between coordinators and assistant coordinators is extremely important. Some coordinators select assistants who are employed with the same agency so that they can stay in regular, direct communication and work closely together. Other coordinators make their selections based on the geography of their regions to improve communication throughout their entire networks and to provide an opportunity for other agencies to share leadership roles in the operations. The GOHS encourages flexibility at the network level so that coordinators can adopt the strategy that produces the best results in their respective regions.
Span of Control
As the number of networks and the size of the leadership teams continued to grow during the preliminary GATEN build-out phase, the need for a greater span of command and control became evident. Thus the GOHS created positions for four law enforcement liaisons (LELs) to assist the GOHS law enforcement coordinator with managing the traffic enforcement networks. LELs are full-time law enforcement officers working part-time under a grant for the GOHS. (As network growth continues, LEL positions could become full-time GOHS positions.) Each LEL is responsible for managing four GATENs.
Each LEL works under the direction of the GOHS Special Operations Division director and the GOHS law enforcement coordinator. LEL selection is based on possession of leadership skills, dedication to traffic enforcement, and past experience in highway safety campaigns initiated by the GOHS. The most qualified LEL candidates are those who have had experience as GATEN coordinators or assistant coordinators.
LELs are responsible for weekly communication with their network coordinators and for providing technical assistance to the networks. LELs follow up with their network coordinators to ensure that meetings are held, network participation is increased, agencies are reporting enforcement numbers, and other assigned activities or initiatives are completed by the coordinators. The LELs are required to attend network meetings as their schedules permit and to pass along information and updates to attending officers.
Liaisons also work with coordinators and all Georgia law enforcement agencies to arrange participation in high-visibility waves of enforcement for state and national campaigns such as those mentioned earlier.
The traffic enforcement networks and LELs are managed by the GOHS director of special operations and the GOHS law enforcement coordinator, who are full-time GOHS employees. Both the special operations director and the law enforcement coordinator have backgrounds in traffic enforcement supervision and maintain their Georgia Peace Officer’s certifications.
GOHS traffic enforcement networks now cover all 159 Georgia counties, having established traffic enforcement relationships with more than 580 police, sheriff’s, university, military, and state agencies as well as prosecutors around the state. Georgia’s traffic enforcement community now functions as one comprehensive team.
Over the past decade, because of the traffic enforcement network concept, more Georgia law enforcement agencies are making traffic enforcement a priority. The GOHS has created and maintained excitement and motivation among all of Georgia’s traffic enforcement officers, and more law enforcement agencies are working together and sharing resources, resulting in lives saved on Georgia’s roadways. The GATENs have now evolved from a potentially useful concept to a lifesaving Georgia institution.
For more information on Georgia’s traffic enforcement networks or other highway safety or traffic enforcement initiatives in Georgia, readers may contact the author. ■