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Back to Archives | Back to July 2012 Contents 

The National Law Enforcement Challenge: Redefined, Refocused, Reenergized

By Howard B. Hall, Captain, Baltimore County, Maryland, Police Department



From left: IACP State and Provincial Policing Division General Chair John R. Batiste, chief, Washington State Patrol; Highway Safety Committee member Ricky H. Rich, Special Operations Director, Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety; NHTSA Administrator David L. Strickland; and Highway Safety Committee Chair Earl M. Sweeney, assistant commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Safety, at the 2011 Highway Safety
Awards Breakfast

In 2009, law enforcement officers in the United States reported more than 5.5 million motor vehicle crashes.1 Although these numbers have been declining, they represent a tremendous amount of law enforcement resources dedicated to responding to and investigating these incidents. The real cost, however, is the impact on citizens and communities. These crashes resulted in 33,808 deaths and more than 2.2 million injuries.2 Traffic deaths more than doubled the number of criminal homicides (15,241) that occurred in the same year.3 Law enforcement agencies have a critical role in reducing these consequences. In fact, law enforcement officers are the only people who have the authority to enforce the traffic laws that are critical to promoting appropriate and safe driving behaviors.

Effective law enforcement traffic safety programs require commitment from an agency’s leadership and dedicated personnel. Development and implementation of these programs are the result of hard work with limited resources and frequently do not receive the recognition that they deserve. For many years, the IACP, through a cooperative agreement with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and in partnership with the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) and the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), have provided an opportunity for agencies not only to improve traffic safety programs but also to receive recognition for their efforts. This is accomplished through the National Law Enforcement Challenge (NLEC), which is overseen by the IACP Highway Safety Committee’s National Law Enforcement Challenge Subcommittee. The partners that support the program understand that combining highly visible traffic enforcement and safety education leads to fewer crashes and believe that recognition must be provided to agencies that achieve success.


The National Law Enforcement Challenge

The NLEC was created in 1992. Initially, it was known as the IACP National Chiefs’ Challenge and focused specifically on seat belt usage. In the early years, the challenge attracted fewer than 200 applicants. As the program grew, it expanded to include other traffic safety priorities such as impaired driving and speeding. In recent years, the number of applicants has exceeded 500. Since its inception, the NLEC has provided recognition to hundreds of agencies for their dedication to the highway safety mission.

Over the years, many states have created their own challenge programs. Many of these started with unique criteria and awards mechanisms in line with local priorities. Eventually, a number of these states decided to incorporate standard scoring and criteria so an applicant could submit one application to both programs.

Currently, the NLEC focuses on three major highway safety priorities:

  • Occupant Protection, including seat belt usage and child safety restraint compliance with an emphasis on the annual Click It or Ticket campaign
  • Impaired Driving, focusing on alcohol and drugged driving coordinating with the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign
  • Speeding, highlighting an agency’s efforts to reduce speed and the related crashes in its jurisdiction

Agencies are encouraged to use high-visibility traffic enforcement as a countermeasure to address all of these problem areas. This is supplemented by department policies, officer training and recognition, public information, and education. Applicants document their efforts in a submission that is due to the IACP each spring.

For the purposes of evaluation and awards, agencies are categorized on the basis of municipal departments, state police and highway patrols, sheriffs’ offices, and other. The “other” category includes federal agencies, college and university police, military police, and so forth. In these categories, agencies are further categorized by size so agencies of similar size can compete against each other. A separate category, the Championship Class, includes first-place winners from all of the prior year’s categories.

In addition to category awards, special awards are given for

  • bicycle and pedestrian safety,
  • child passenger safety,
  • commercial motor vehicle safety,
  • first-time entry,
  • impaired driving [prevention],
  • motorcycle safety,
  • occupant protection,
  • speed awareness,
  • technology, and
  • underage alcohol [consumption] prevention

The Clayton J. Hall Memorial Award honors the memory of Clayton J. Hall, one of the founders of the IACP National Chiefs’ Challenge. It recognizes the most comprehensive traffic safety program submitted each year.

Judging occurs in June of each year, with NLEC panels of three judges assigned to each category and size. The results are subsequently approved by the Highway Safety Committee before the winners are notified during the summer. Each year’s NLEC culminates with the Highway Safety Awards Breakfast during the annual IACP conference. In 2011, the keynote speaker was David L. Strickland, NHTSA administrator and author of the From the Administrator column in this month’s issue of Police Chief magazine (page 16). An invitation has already been issued to Strickland to participate in this year’s ceremony. Winning agencies are presented their awards, and a drawing is conducted to award the grand prize, which is the use of a fully equipped 2013 Ford Police Interceptor Utility model, SUV for one year.


Establishing and Expanding the Mission

In 2010, Assistant Commissioner Earl M. Sweeney, chair of the Highway Safety Committee, directed the NLEC Subcommittee to conduct a thorough review and develop a strategic plan to improve, expand, and sustain the NLEC. The final plan was approved by the Highway Safety Committee in June 2011.

The strategic plan establishes the NLEC mission as follows: “Recognize excellent law enforcement traffic safety programs.” Expanding on this mission, the NLEC vision includes the following elements:

  • Expand law enforcement involvement in traffic safety as a priority
  • Reduce crashes and resulting injuries and deaths
  • Detect and deter crime
  • Create safer communities
  • Improve quality of life

The NLEC Subcommittee has identified four goals to make this vision a reality:

  • Improve traffic safety
  • Increase participation
  • Share best practices
  • Generate sustainability

To gather information and solicit feedback and recommendations on the operations and the effectiveness of the NLEC, the John Standish Consulting Group was contracted to assist. The goal was to assess the NLEC and make recommendations related to participant perceptions, application accessibility, relevance of program outcomes, procedural consistency, and relevance of the award criteria. The consulting group gathered information through surveys of award recipients, stakeholders, and law enforcement personnel and through focus groups of NLEC Subcommittee members, state challenge coordinators, challenge judges, and participants. It also conducted interviews with agency and association representatives, reviewed NLEC processes, and reviewed best practices from other large-scale awards programs.

The final report is pending; however, preliminary results confirm some of the priorities established by the subcommittee. These include

  • the need for an electronic application system to streamline the current hard copy application,
  • increased outreach via the Internet and email,
  • better feedback from judging,
  • improved sharing of best practices, and
  • additional assistance for agencies planning to apply.

Several agencies noted the usefulness of NLEC in terms of improving traffic safety programs. In the near future, a final report will be submitted including recommendations for revised evaluation and judging procedures, modified award categories, and other program improvements.


Improving Traffic Safety

The NLEC always has focused on improving traffic safety. This has been accomplished by providing recognition to law enforcement agencies that implement effective programs based on criteria established in the challenge, targeting national highway safety priorities. The updated NLEC will continue this focus. One of the most noticeable differences will be the manner in which information is collected from participating agencies and how it is evaluated for award purposes.

In the future, the NLEC application will focus on traffic safety priority areas instead of the current categories (for example, policy, enforcement, public information, and so forth). The new focus areas will include the long-standing priorities of impaired driving, occupant protection, and speeding. In addition, a fourth category will be added to focus on local traffic safety issues, especially the agency’s support for and participation in the state’s strategic highway safety plan or annual highway safety plan.

Applicants will be judged based on their work in the four priority areas. It is expected that data-driven approaches, targeting resources to areas with the most significant problems, will form the basis for each application. Evaluation will be based on the following criteria:

  • Policies and Procedures: It is expected that applicant agencies have written directives making enforcement of traffic laws, specifically in the focus areas, a priority for all agency members. Additionally, applicants must have a directive making the use of occupant restraints mandatory for all personnel.
  • Training: Effective enforcement requires trained personnel. Applications should include information about ongoing traffic safety training such as standardized field sobriety testing, drug recognition experts, child safety seat installations, speed measuring devices, and any other program that furthers the traffic safety mission.
  • Recognition: Recognition of agency personnel and civilians is included to show how those who support the mission are rewarded. This can include established programs from groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving or internal awards programs.
  • Enforcement: Enforcement should be data driven and place based. In addition to reporting enforcement totals, applicants must highlight how their enforcement is targeted toward problem areas and priority violations.
  • Public Information and Education: There are many established public education programs available to law enforcement agencies. For example, the NHTSA website http://www.trafficsafetymarketing.gov provides
    a variety of resources. Additionally, applicants are encouraged to use local media, schools, community and business groups, and any other creative approach available to broadcast the traffic safety message. Applicants should demonstrate that these efforts target the right people, places, and problems.
  • Effectiveness: Scoring will weigh heavily on this element. Applicants should demonstrate that programs have achieved their desired outcomes. These can be demonstrated by lowering the number of crashes, increasing occupant protection usage, reducing speed, or by any other measurable criteria. This must be done through the use of data generated by the applicant or by other reliable sources.

This new approach will keep applicant agencies focused on achieving outcomes. All of the criteria will be scored based on problem identification and the use of countermeasures targeted to achieve results. General enforcement statistics and other quantity measures will receive less emphasis under this approach.

In addition to revising the scoring criteria, the categories in which agencies are placed are being reviewed. The goal of this review is to ensure that each category represents a workable number of agencies and those with like functions are placed together. The Standish company has reviewed this matter and will present its findings to the NLEC Subcommittee in time for use in next year’s judging.


Increasing Participation

One of IACP’s primary goals related to NLEC is to increase participation. Eventually, a tiered approach is envisioned that would progress from state to regional to national judging. This could provide tremendous benefits at the community level as more agencies adopt NLEC as a method of improving traffic safety efforts. Two initiatives aimed at achieving this goal are the improvement of the application and judging process and enhanced recognition.

To improve the efficiency of the application and judging process, an online application will be available for the 2012 application, submitted in 2013. This allows applicants to enter the information and attach documentation of their efforts in lieu of submitting hard copy documents. The use of the online system will become mandatory when applications are submitted in 2013. At that time, word limits will be placed on each focus area as well as on the number of attachments that will be allowed. The advantages of this system will be numerous.

Some of the specifications follow:

  • Applicants no longer will be required to submit hard copy applications and documentation.
  • Limits on application length will make the application easier to complete and require less staff time.
  • Applicants will be required to clearly and concisely describe the effectiveness of their traffic safety efforts.
  • Applicants will have until 12:00 midnight on the due date to submit their applications.
  • Remote judging will be implemented, which will expand the pool of available judges.

Another benefit of the system that has been developed will be its availability to state challenge programs. This will allow an agency to submit one application for both the local and national programs. Each participating state will be provided access to applications from agencies participating in its program.

One of the key benefits of participating in NLEC is the recognition of agency efforts in support of traffic safety. To enhance this recognition, revisions to the awards process are being made. All agencies that submit an application will receive a letter of appreciation from the IACP, in acknowledgement of their efforts. To qualify for an award, an agency must achieve a minimum score during the judging process. To maintain the integrity of the program, this score is set at a demanding level, and any agency that meets or exceeds it is worthy of recognition. Unfortunately, the level of competition precludes all agencies that fail to achieve this score from receiving an award. To provide well-deserved recognition, each agency that achieves a qualifying score will receive a certificate of recognition signed by the presidents of the IACP, the NSA, and the GHSA. This certificate is designed to recognize the high level of achievement necessary to qualify for an NLEC award. The NLEC will continue to recognize the first-, second-, and third-place winners in each category. Further, an award is being developed that will recognize state-level initiatives to support and expand the NLEC. The Clayton J. Hall Memorial Award will continue to be presented to the agency that is judged to have the best overall entry in NLEC.

In addition to the revisions that have been described, working to expand state programs will be a critical part of increasing participation. Currently, more than 15 states have some form of a challenge program, and many of these already submit their applications to the NLEC. The IACP will work with the GHSA to increase the number of state-level programs. The GHSA represents all of the state highway safety offices and is in the best position to promote participation. The IACP will prepare a package of information, including access to the online application system, to assist any interested state with implementing a program. This effort will coincide with the development of a marketing plan by the NLEC Subcommittee. Subcommittee members will partner with the network of law enforcement liaisons around the country to provide presentations and other technical assistance related to the challenge, its benefits, and the process of completing a competitive application.


Sharing of Best Practices

A significant benefit provided by the NLEC is the opportunity to share best practices related to traffic safety. This has been done in a variety of ways in the past; however, a more comprehensive process is being developed to ensure that information about successful programs is available to benefit agencies. Some of the initiatives that are being planned include asking winning agencies to prepare articles for potential printing in industry publications. Workshop submissions will be prepared for the annual IACP conference and for other conferences that will highlight winning agencies and successful programs. This national exposure should be considered another level of recognition provided by participation in the NLEC. Additionally, the electronic application system will make the process of sharing documentation about successful programs significantly more efficient.


Sustainability

Managing the NLEC is a tremendous undertaking that could not be done without the financial support of NHTSA and several key corporate sponsors as well as the tireless efforts of the IACP staff and NLEC Subcommittee members. The IACP leadership has approved specific fundraising guidelines designed to attract more sponsors. Additionally, improved processes and procedures are being put in place to ensure that the NLEC continues as personnel and sponsorships evolve over time. Of course, the real key to sustaining this important effort is the dedication and the expansion of the applicant agencies that work toward making our streets and our highways safer every day. As long as agencies dedicated to promoting traffic safety desire to compete and share best practices in an effort to improve traffic safety, there will be a need for the NLEC.


Why Take the Challenge?

Taking the challenge requires hard work from dedicated staff. Given the economic conditions faced by virtually every law enforcement agency regarding resources, what is the return on investment? The most obvious answer to this question is the safety benefits to communities through reduced traffic crashes and the deaths, injuries, and property damage that they cause. This improves the quality of life for citizens. The NLEC also helps agencies improve traffic safety programs by providing a framework for activities focused on priority areas through the use of data-driven strategies. It also provides well-deserved recognition to the agencies and personnel responsible for successful programs. After receiving a first place award at IACP 2010, Colonel Ronald K. Replogle, superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, stated, “Ensuring the safety of the motoring public is a top priority for the patrol. .&mbsp;. . The IACP National Law Enforcement Challenge Award recognizes our officers’ day-to-day efforts to make our roadways and neighborhoods safe for everyone.”4 This recognition should be a source of pride for the agency and community for their efforts to promote traffic safety.

The IACP’s NLEC Subcommittee encourages all law enforcement leaders to take the challenge. Efforts toward this could include the following:

  • Visit IACP website at http://www.theIACP.org for more information.
  • Visit the NLEC booth (number 4511) at IACP 2012 in San Diego.
  • Participate in your state challenge program. If one does not exist in your state, work with your highway safety office and chiefs’ or sheriffs’ associations to implement one.
  • Use the framework provided by the NLEC to review your current traffic safety programs and document the results.
  • Submit your application for next year’s NLEC.

Leadership matters in this effort. For those interested in improving traffic safety and the quality of life in their communities, the NLEC offers a way to achieve these outcomes and earn recognition for the agencies and people who make it happen. &diams


Notes:
1National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Overview,” Traffic Safety Facts: 2009 Data, DOT HS 811 392, 1, http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811392.pdf (accessed May 16, 2012).
2Ibid.
3U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Murder,” Crime in the United States, 2009 (September 2010), http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/documents/murdermain.pdf (accessed May 16, 2012).
4“Missouri State Highway Patrol Recognized for Best Overall Traffic Safety Program,” Missouri State Highway Patrol, http://www.mshp.dps.missouri.gov/MSHPWeb/Root/IACPAwardStory.html (accessed May 16, 2012).


Please cite as:

Howard B. Hall, "The National Law Enforcement Challenge: Redefined, Refocused, Reenergized," The Police Chief 79 (July 2012): 54–56.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXIX, no. 7, July 2012. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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