By Richard J. Ashton, Chief of Police (Retired), Frederick, Maryland; and Grant/Technical Management Manager, IACP
he IACP Highway Safety Committee (HSC) was blessed for more than a quarter of a century with a remarkable leader at the helm—one who served as its guiding light in so many ways. Neither longevity nor hard work assures success. However, those qualities, coupled with a keen understanding of the issues of the day and the ability to build consensus around the essence of those issues, allowed Earl M. Sweeney, assistant commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Safety, to increase exponentially the respect in which the HSC is held today and to elevate the stature and value of traffic law enforcement in professional policing.
One of the many keys to Sweeney’s success is the breadth of his 57 years of law enforcement experience: 20 years’ service with his hometown police department, starting as a patrol officer in Belmont, New Hampshire, and rising to its chief for 14 years; a 1-year stint as assistant director of the New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles; 9 years as deputy commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Safety; and 18 years as the director of the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council, before assuming his current position.
Another key to Sweeney’s success is his ability to dissect complex issues and convey them to others in a way that can easily be recalled. For example, more than a decade ago, Sweeney made a number of presentations across the United States to law enforcement groups on how to avoid bias-based traffic law enforcement practices. He simply urged officers to ask themselves the “but for” question before stopping a vehicle or conducting a search—for example, “But for this person’s race or ethnicity, would I have stopped him/her?”1 This was sound advice that many of us heard then and still apply to our work today.
Under Sweeney’s stewardship, the HSC realized numerous accomplishments. Several of the most significant follow:
- The Highway Safety Desk Book may well be the HSC’s signature project and always has been “intended as a quick and practical compendium of information to assist [police chief executives] in asserting [their] leadership in one of policing’s most important functions, Police Traffic Services.”2 Together with the Manual of Police Traffic Services Policies and Procedures, it was first published in February 1996, updated in 2004, and currently is under revision in an effort Sweeney has pledged to complete before his current HSC term expires. These two publications will be combined with Traffic Safety Strategies for Law Enforcement—which began in 1996 as Police Traffic Services in the 21st Century and evolved in 1999 into Traffic Safety in the Next Millennium: Law Enforcement Strategies before becoming in 2003 Traffic Safety Strategies for Law Enforcement—and will serve as a single highway safety trilogy for police chief executives.3
- Moved by the tragedies of 14 law enforcement officers’ dying between 1993 and 2002 in fiery, high-speed, high-impact rear-end collisions,4 Sweeney formed the Law Enforcement Stops and Safety Subcommittee (LESSS) in 2003 “to create a safer working environment for police officers during traffic stops and other roadside contacts.” LESSS built upon and expanded the considerable work of the Arizona Crown Victoria Police Interceptor Blue Ribbon Panel and studied emergency lighting and conspicuity, installation of aftermarket equipment in police vehicles, and officer behavior (the positioning both of officers and of vehicles). LESSS’s efforts resulted in the publication of Staff Study 2004 5 and 2006 Staff Report 6 and in the production of four roll-call videos: Your Vest Won't Stop This Bullet (2005); P.U.R.S.U.E. (2007); Saving Lives . . . One Stop At A Time (2008); and Is Today Your Day? (2010). Furthermore, beginning in 2004, LESSS partnered with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to revise the latter’s Analysis of Officers Feloniously Killed and Assaulted form in an effort to gather information critical to identifying more precisely the factors that eventually could improve officer safety during traffic stops and other roadside contacts. The new Analysis of Officers Accidentally Killed form was implemented by the FBI in January 2011, so the process of gathering crucial data is under way and eventually will yield the same type of invaluable information that has been available for four decades relative to officers killed feloniously.
- Since 1992, Sweeney has strongly supported and promoted the expansion of the IACP National Chiefs’ Challenge (which broadened into the National Law Enforcement Challenge in 2004) as a professional competition among similar sizes and types of law enforcement agencies to determine and showcase the most effective and efficient overall traffic safety programs in the realm of impaired driving, occupant protection, and speeding.
- In 2005, Sweeney created the Impaired Driving Subcommittee, the work of which resulted within a year in the development of the Impaired Driving Guidebook: Three Keys to Renewed Focus and Success.7
- In 2010, Sweeney created the Traffic Incident Management (TIM) Subcommittee to promote cooperation and coordination among the disciplines that respond to traffic incidents in order to achieve the National Unified Goal’s three fundamental principles. The TIM Subcommittee produced a roll-call video titled Manage to Survive: Traffic Incident Management for First Responders, which will debut at IACP 2012 in San Diego, California.
Sweeney never has lost sight of the importance of traffic law enforcement’s raison d’être: To reduce traffic crashes and the deaths and serious injuries they cause. As a corollary, he always has advocated that by undertaking traffic activities, officers simultaneously can solve serious crimes, championing 3M’s Looking Beyond the License Plate program since its inception in 1998.8 Throughout his long and distinguished career, he has governed his actions by these noble principles and along the way undoubtedly has prevented many traffic deaths and serious injuries.
The HSC is indebted to Sweeney for leading for so long. We will miss him as our chair but will continue to cherish his friendship and value his counsel as a fellow HSC member. Thank you, Chairman Sweeney! ♦
1“Part Two: Community-Oriented Traffic Policing,” Highway Safety Desk Book, September 2004, 2–6, http://www.theiacp.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=qJ0Qs%2f6MtRY%3d&tabid=87 (accessed August 14, 2012).
2“Introduction,” Highway Safety Desk Book.
3IACP, HSC, Traffic Safety Strategies for Law Enforcement: A Planning Guide for Law Enforcement Executives, Administrators, and Managers (August 2003), http://www.theiacp.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=VKwi8ASJmMU%3d&tabid=392 (accessed August 14, 2012).
4Richard J. Ashton, “Trunk Packing: A Matter of Officer Survival,” Highway Safety Initiatives, The Police Chief77 (August 2010): 136–138, http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_arch&article_id=2169&issue_id=82010 (accessed August 14, 2012).
5LESSS, Staff Study 2004, http://www.theiacp.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=ez0WIkRWq2A%3d&tabid=379 (accessed August 14, 2012).
6LESSS, 2006 Staff Report, http://www.theiacp.org/Portals/0/pdfs/LESS/LESSS_2006StaffReport.pdf (accessed August 14, 2012).
7IACP Impaired Driving Subcommittee, Impaired Driving Guidebook: Three Keys to Renewed Focus and Success, October 5, 2006, http://www.theiacp.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=aK2uQfI3S9k%3d&tabid=87 (accessed August 14, 2012).
8“Part Two: Community-Oriented Traffic Policing,” Highway Safety Desk Book, 2–5; and IACP, “Looking Beyond the License Plate Award Program,” http://www.theiacp.org/About/Awards/LookingBeyondtheLicensePlateAwardProgram/tabid/343/Default.aspx (accessed August 14, 2012).
Please cite as:
Richard J. Ashton, "Thank You, Chairman Sweeney!" Highway Safety Initiatives, The Police Chief 79 (October 2012): 116–118.