|Written by Kellen Chavez|
Over the past couple of years, the AZ DPS Officers assigned to Sgt. Jim Messerly’s highway patrol squad grew increasingly concerned about the number of fatal collisions that were occurring in their assigned area. The officers were saddened by the loss of lives and the fact that most of those killed in the traffic collisions would not have died had they simply been wearing a seatbelt.
In early 2012, the squad, under the leadership of Sgt. Messerly, established a goal for each of its officers to issue 500 seatbelt citations by the end of year. The squad titled their stepped-up, and highly aggressive enforcement effort “The Seatbelt 500 – A Race To Save Lives.”
“We were confident that motorists who were cited for a seatbelt violation and then talked to abou the importance of wearing a seatbelt might encourage them to get into the habit of buckling up,” Messerly said.
By June 19, 2012, Officer Corey Smith had already reached the 500 number and ended the year with a stunning 940 total seatbelt citations issued.
While Smith wrote the most citations, all five officers on Messerly’s squad hit their target of 500 seatbelt-related citations marking a total number that exceeded 3,100 for the entire squad in 2012.
The number of seatbelt violators contacted by Messerly’s five officers equated to a 23.8 percent increase of the entire Highway Patrol Division’s enforcement for this category from its 2011 statewide total.
“In my 30 years with DPS, I have never been prouder of an individual squad of officers,” Messerly said. “The squad really stepped up and met the challenge in what is a critically important area of enforcement.”
Messerly noted that his squad achieved all of their seatbelt enforcement success in 2012 during their normal duty hours without using overtime and special enforcement money.
“I was also proud of my squad because statues related to occupant restraint use can be difficult to enforce in Arizona because we are a secondary violation state when it comes to seatbelts,” Messerly said. “That requires officers to concentrate on seatbelt enforcement when stopping vehicles for other primary violations.”
As far as Officer Corey smith goes, he has established a habit on the road during Seatbelt 500 that will be hard for him to quit.
“He is still issuing seatbelt citations like crazy this year,” Messerly said. “He is like a dynamo that can’t be stopped.
He is proof that once you participate in the Seatbelt 500, part of the campaign sticks with you forever and that’s because you are preventing lives from being lost.”
Kellen Chavez is assigned to the public information division of the Arizona Dept. of Public Safety.
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