Law enforcement agencies across Indiana get millions to combat reckless driving

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INDIANAPOLIS — More than 200 law enforcement agencies across Indiana now have thousands of dollars in additional funding to fight reckless driving.

It was made possible through the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (ICJI), which recently awarded $6.5 million in traffic safety grants to departments to conduct overtime patrols and implement strategies to address reckless driving in Indiana.

The federal dollars will be used to conduct high visibility patrols that address dangerous and impaired driving issues such as speeding, seatbelt usage and distracted driving. It comes at a time where more people, statistically, are dying on Indiana’s roadways in traffic crashes than pre-pandemic.

“The numbers are pretty staggering and pretty sobering and so in the first half of 2021 alone we are just over 20,000 traffic fatalities nationwide,” said Devon McDonald, Executive Director of the ICJI.

That number is about an 18.4% increase compared to the same time period last year and according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it’s the largest six-month increase ever recorded in the reporting system’s history.

Indiana is no stranger to the trend that is being reported across the United States, either.

“In Indiana alone, kind of in the beginning of October, we are at about 683 traffic fatalities, which is an 8% increase over 2019,” said McDonald.

Data shows, if the pace continues, especially with the holiday travel season ahead, Indiana could surpass 900 traffic fatalities by the end of the year, making it one of the deadliest years in the last decade.

That’s why the ICJI awarded millions to agencies to help help take on the problem of reckless driving across the state.

“What we are trying to do here with these funds in our partnering with these agencies is we are trying to save lives,” said McDonald. “It’s proven that when officers are out on the street and they’re being seen, that people slow down, they make better choices, they use their seatbelt, they don’t drive impaired and they drive the speed limit.”

“Coinciding these grants is imperative with the holiday season to making sure that all of our loved ones have a seat around the table for Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner,” said McDonald.

Two agencies in specific received the largest awards from the ICJI, including the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, which received $1.5 million in funding.

A spokesperson for IMPD told FOX59, “With the help of this recent funding from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, IMPD will be able to ramp up our efforts to curb reckless driving. In the coming weeks, IMPD will determine how these funds best will be used to address traffic enforcement throughout our city.”

Last month, IMPD shared more on its district-by-district approach to address reckless driving in hotspots throughout the city, as well as its efforts to crack down on reckless drivers in school zones.

The second agency that received the other largest award was the Indiana State Police, for a total of $1 million in funding.

“We’re always thankful for our partnerships with other agencies including the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, who works so hard to gather the data and give us information so that we can utilize that data to target our enforcement efforts and determine what those statistics are showing us and how we can change those statistics,” said Sergeant John Perrine, public information officer for ISP.

Perrine said, one fatal accident is too many, and he said ISP’s goal would be to reduce the number of deadly traffic accidents all the way to zero if possible.

“It takes a team effort and that’s exactly what this grant is for, is to build a team so that we can use each other and each other’s data to make the roads safer for everybody,” said Perrine. “Nearly every single crash is preventable, so our goal is to increase our enforcement efforts. By doing that it increases our visibility.”

Perrine said often times, enforcement efforts reduce speeds simply because people see troopers out on the roads working.

“Our goal is to be seen. Our goal is to slow everybody down so that our roads are safer for everyone.”

Like other recipient agencies, ISP troopers will have the additional opportunities to work overtime patrols as a result of this grant.

“This grant will give our troopers and opportunity to go out and work during their time off and target those aggressive drivers, target those areas that have been deemed as high crash areas and hopefully reduce the number of fatal crashes and crashes overall,” said Perrine. “At the root of all of these things are speed. Somebody’s in a hurry, they’re driving recklessly because they want to go fast and so our goal is to slow people down and sometimes we can do that just through high visibility patrols.”

Another recipient agency of the traffic safety grant is the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO).

“We’re happy to participate in the criminal justice institute grant every year. We’ve been fortunate enough to receive it. So it’s always good news when we get the grants again,” said Andrew Barnhart, Chief Deputy for the JCSO.

“We have a problem just like all of the other areas in Indiana, and in the country with reckless driving, speeding, operating while intoxicated, things like that and these grants allow us to pay overtime for our additional patrols,” said Barnhart. “Unfortunately these things tend to come and go in spurts for some reason and we’ve had an unfortunate run of it here lately in Johnson County.”

According to ICJI, the JCSO, Greenwood Police Department and Franklin Police Department traffic safety partnership received a total of $82,500 between the three. Grants were awarded to both stand-alone agencies and traffic safety partnerships made up of multiple agencies.

“When we have deputies working in the street they’re taking calls and responding to crashes and things like that so there’s not always as much time to dedicate to speed enforcement and operating while intoxicated enforcement and things we’d like, so these grants will help pay for the overtime for additional deputies specifically for that.”

Barnhart said the JCSO works with GPD and FPD as well when it comes to traffic enforcement in the county.

“We’ve always had a situation where the Franklin and Greenwood officers will also come out to areas of the county and vice versa to help us spread that throughout the whole county. We’re not just focused on the area where traditionally they would work,” said Barnhart.

Several agencies in Delaware County, including the Muncie Police Department, Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, Daleville Police Department, and Eaton Police Department, another traffic safety partnership, received a combined $121,000 to combat reckless driving.

MPD’s grant coordinator told FOX59 the money will be divvied up amongst the four departments, with several receiving more based on the number of officers that work on the grant, and that if needed, more will be allocated to the other agencies.

The department is also taking additional measures in partnership with area agencies to combat reckless driving, such as a pilot program to enforce bus stop-arm enforcement and protect children traveling to and from schools. MPD said this grant will only help enhance its ongoing reckless driving enforcement efforts.

When it comes to how the agencies are to utilize the federal grant money they receive, the ICJI said it’s straightforward and all will follow the same guidelines.

“The zero tolerance and overtime patrols, we mean just that. An officer — these are all overtime hours — so if an officer chooses to work these grants, they’re doing it on their free time,” said McDonald.

The IJCI doesn’t necessarily require a citation be written, according to McDonald, however, if a person is pulled over, it must be a ‘meaningful contact,’ the agency said.

“These are federal grant dollars. We track everything. We track the number of hours these officers work by agency down to the actual officer any contacts that they have, so there’s a lot of information that is collected that we utilize to ensure that these grant funds are being used appropriately,” said McDonald.

“When grant money comes in, it also comes with a list of specific things that money can or should be used for and so we utilize that list to best come up with a strategy that works to reduce fatal crashes, to reduce crashes and just make the road safer,” said Perrine.

Both ISP and JCSO said they want drivers to understand the burden that they carry when they are on the road and operating a vehicle, and said their agencies will utilize this grant money to step up patrols and increase enforcement to show them they’re not out there to be writing tickets, they’re out there to help save lives and encourage safe driving.

“We get personally affected by these crashes when we have to work them, when we see teenagers, young adults and older adults that should know better that are seriously hurt or killed in these crashes, that it has a major effect on us and we want to see everyone go home safely,” said Barnhart.

“First responders and police officers they do bear the burden of enforcing that safety on our roadways but safety is everybody’s responsibility, not just police, not just firefighters,” said Perrine. “Everybody has to do their part and for somebody to go out and drive recklessly and dangerously is selfish and that selfish driving often times creates a devastating crash and then families, communities, first responders, the ripple effect is unending at the effects of those fatal crashes.”

The grants were awarded to agencies in October using federal funds, according to the ICJI.

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