The Little Falls Police Department (LFPD) was named as one of the top three agencies in Northeast Minnesota for outstanding performance in the Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) campaign.
During the October 2012 seat belt campaign, “Little Falls did an absolutely outstanding job,” said Frank Scherf, with the office of traffic safety, a sector of the Department of Public Safety (DPS).
Formerly known as “Safe and Sober,” the campaign name was changed to “Toward Zero Deaths” in 2003. Scherf told the Little Falls City Council his department identified four specific behaviors that resulted in deaths on open roadways.
“We basically scrapped the ‘Safe and Sober’ program and came up with Toward Zero Deaths,” he said.
The four behaviors found to cause the most deaths are DWI, speeding, distracted driving and not wearing a seat belt in the event of a crash.
So the focus was put on those four behaviors and the DPS began mobilizations or “enforcement waves” to take place across the state over the course of each year.
One target month focuses on seat belt use, others on drinking and driving, distracted driving and speeding.
“My job is to help the different enforcement agencies in the 16 counties I service, to help them with their enforcement mobilization,” said Scherf. About 60 or 65 different agencies are funded by grants through the office of traffic safety, he said.
That money is given to departments like the LFPD, so officers can go out and work extra and overtime hours to write tickets for seat belts, DWI, distracted driving and not wearing seat belts.
Other components include media releases and television commercials, part of the education piece of the program
The DPS also works with the Minnesota Department of Transportation when it is found a lot of crashes happen in certain areas. “There may be some engineering issues where improvements could be made,” he said.
Scherf explained the name of the campaign.
“It seems like a lot to go to zero deaths,” he said. “But there is really no number you can put on it that’s acceptable. … Zero is the only number acceptable; the only number (of roadway deaths) we can live with.”
In 2003, the program goal was to reach 350 deaths by 2014. In 2003, 655 deaths were related to accidents on Minnesota roadways.
In 2011, 368 died in auto accidents. “So just in that number of years, we cut it from 655 to 368, a 44 percent decrease,” Scherf said.
In 2012, 380 deaths occurred. “It went up because we had a longer motorcycle season last year,” he said.
The years 2011 and 2012 have been the first two since 1944 that Minnesota has had fewer than 400 deaths on its roadways.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. “We’ve been killing people on our roadways unnecessarily, basically.”
By concentrating on just four behaviors, “We’ve been able to save that many lives in just that many years,” he said.
The program works, he said, because cities and 268 agencies throughout the state of Minnesota work the program. “Without that, it doesn’t work,” he said.
After each mobilization, Scherf picks three agencies in his area that outperformed other agencies. In October 2012, the LFPD made Scherf’s list.
Police Chief Greg Schirmers chose a radar unit as an incentive award. The unit is mounted on a squad car and is capable of tracking up to four vehicles at one time.
Earlier this year, the Morrison County Sheriff’s Office was recognized for its outstanding participation in a TZD campaign and was awarded two light bars for a patrol vehicle.