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Back to Archives | Back to July 2005 Contents 

Highway Safety Initiatives

The Chiefs (Law Enforcement) Challenge, Then and Now

By Robert T. Wall, Master Police Officer (Retired), Fairfax County, Virginia; IACP National Challenge Coordinator, 1991-2003; and Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police Challenge Coordinator, 1996-Present

n 1984 an organization called Traffic Safety Now was formed for the purpose of gaining support for and passing safety belt laws across the United States. Funded by the automobile manufacturers through their trade association, TSN had great success right away. By the end of the year, several states had coalitions in place and safety belt laws were being passed.

At one point there were safety belt coalitions in all 50 states. Each had the same goal: to save lives on our nation's highways by promoting safety belt use and the passage of safety belt laws.

One state coalition, the Maryland Committee for Safety Belt Use Inc., under the direction of Barbara Beckett, teamed up with the law enforcement officials in 1988 to create the Maryland Chiefs Challenge. This friendly competition increased law enforcement support for traffic safety efforts and honored the agencies that do an outstanding job.

In 1989 the Virginia Auto Safety Alliance followed Maryland's lead and created the Virginia Chiefs Challenge. The Virginia and Maryland coalitions assisted with the organization and production of some of the nation's best law enforcement highway programs.

"To win in the Chiefs Challenge is an honor," said Beckett. "Many of these agencies work very hard to ensure they are doing all they can to make their communities safer, and they appreciate the recognition they get when they do a good job."

IACP Gets Involved
The IACP soon noticed the success of these two programs and began looking for a way to involve law enforcement agencies nationwide in the buckle-up message. Chuck Peltier, then an IACP program manager, and the author went to NHTSA and proposed a national competition similar to Maryland's and Virginia's. In 1991 the IACP and NHTSA created and hosted the National Chiefs Challenge. The program received 60 applications and it presented awards at IACP's annual conference that fall.

During the first Challenge competition, Clayton J. Hall, a director at NHTSA and a highway safety leader who helped develop many safety programs, including the Challenge, died. Each year, the program honors him by presenting the Clayton J. Hall Memorial Award to the law enforcement agency that submits the most comprehensive traffic safety program in the competition.

That first year, the Fairfax County, Virginia, Police Department won the honor. Other winners of the Hall Award include the California Highway Patrol; the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Police Department; the Boca Raton, Florida, Police Department; the Hoffman Estates, Illinois, Police Department; the New York State Police; the West Point, Virginia, Police Department; the Florida Highway Patrol; and the Washington State Patrol.

Many Partners Working to Improve Traffic Safety
Using the public-private partnership model, the IACP Challenge has enlisted corporate partners to help law enforcement save lives. The Ford Motor Company, Nationwide Insurance, Kustom Signals, Code3, Laser Technologies, and many others have stepped up to the Challenge and helped the IACP and many states reward outstanding agencies for their traffic safety efforts.

These corporate partners not only provided resources for the IACP National Challenge, they provided needed equipment and products to the winners of the national and state Challenge programs. Their involvement has helped make a difference in the way law enforcement agencies look at traffic safety and how they prioritize traffic safety efforts.

Today there are 11 state Challenge programs: Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and California. Their partners include state highway safety offices and state law enforcement associations. The state programs have made a huge contribution to the nation's highway safety successes and the IACP National Law Enforcement Challenge, as it is now known.

The IACP Challenge program and all but one of the state programs incorporate speed and DUI to the judging criteria. Today the IACP National Law Enforcement receives more than 300 applications annually.

"This program has brought recognition to the participating agencies and to the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police," said Dana Schrad, executive director of the VACP. "We believe that this program promotes professionalism in traffic safety enforcement and encourages agencies to share best practices and programs with each other. State programs are taking the message to the communities and everyone is a winner. The community, the state, and the nation are safer because law enforcement has accepted the Challenge of making highway safety a priority." ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 7, July 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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