Implemented statewide in 2001, Joining Forces campaigns are cited as “the most prominent” investment in reducing roadway fatalities statewide and are “largely responsible” for the significant reduction of motor-vehicle fatalities from 381 in 2002 to 246 in 2011, according to the 2013 Highway Safety Performance Plan issued by the Nevada Office of Traffic Safety.
In addition to reducing fatalities, the report credits Joining Forces with contributing to the success of non-injury related incidents, including the attainment of a 94.1 percent seatbelt usage rate in 2011 and Nevada’s 2012 distinction as a “low-fatality rate state” due to it’s low number of DUI citations.
Joining Forces campaigns are made possible by state grants allocated by the Nevada OTS to specific regional law-enforcement agencies, providing them with the necessary overtime funds to increase the number of officers on the road. According to Traci Pearl, Division Administrator for the Nevada Department of Public Safety, 12 to 14 Joining Forces campaigns with specific targets, ranging from intersection safety to DUI’s, are pre-planned by the Office of Traffic Safety and individual agencies each calendar year, allowing for one campaign per month and a few extras in case of extreme need.
In the local area, grants are allotted to the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, Sparks Police Department, Reno Police Department and Nevada Highway Patrol with the stipulation that the money given can be used to pay any officer conducting street patrol or traffic safety with a focus on that month’s target problem, regardless of departmental jurisdiction.
According to Sparks PD Patrol Sargent Jeanmarie Walsh, the grants do their job in supporting a significant amount of extra enforcement. For example, the latest Joining Forces campaign funded by the Sparks Police Department in May resulted in 156 stops and 158 citations made by 18 officers with the intent of enforcing intersection safety. The comparable number of stops for the entire Sparks PD force in a normal two-week period, she says, would likely be somewhere around 198 with only 65 to 70 citations issued.
Bob Harmon, Public Information Officer for the WCSO, which received funding for a similar campaign in mid-June, says that the objectives of Joining Forces are two-fold. Primarily they allow greater manpower for enforcing traffic safety laws and issuing citations to dangerous drivers. On a secondary level, they generate increased publicity – and hopefully increased awareness – of the presence of law enforcement on the road.
Harmon and other agents hope that the fear of being ticketed encourages motorists to practice safer driving habits.
“We use these joining forces campaigns to constantly get those messages out to folks,” Harmon said. “Sometimes we need that rude awakening when we’re teetering on the edge of: ‘oh, well, I think I can get away with it.’ It’s just not worth the risk.”
In Harmon’s opinion, it’s important to note that although law enforcement agents may be made out to be the bad guys, their primary objective is to keep the roads safe for Nevada drivers – not to issue extraneous fines.
“Each citation is a success. Not because we want to give out tickets, but because citations send the message that something that someone is doing is jeopardizing the safety of themselves and everyone else on the road,” Harmon said. “One of the main goals of these Joining Forces campaigns is to cut down on the number of violations that occur, and hopefully the number of accidents.”
If the numbers have anything to say about it, Nevada’s Joining Forces campaigns seem to be generating success statewide. From a departmental standpoint, Pearl considers Joining Forces operations a necessity in keeping those numbers positive at the community level, especially in light of statewide budget restrictions.
“Allowing agencies to work multi-jurisdictionally, especially in these days and times of low resources and budgets, empowers the agencies to really focus on areas where they’re seeing problems,” Pearl said. “They’re a great way to share limited resources and allow law enforcement to focus on problems they’re seeing on your streets and within your community.”