Grant partnerships for law enforcement equipment to be “rejuvenated” as numerous factors stand in way of increased roadway enforcement efforts

The Northeast Coalition for Roadway Safety is preparing to re-examine grants that provide equipment to partner law enforcement agencies as some departments struggle to meet overtime patrolling requirements.

During the coalition's January meeting, member and Palmyra Police Chief Eddie Bogue said that increased enforcement wasn't always occurring across the region and the state. Law enforcement partners in the area include Missouri Highway Patrol, Bowling Green Police Department, Monroe City Police Department and Ralls County Sheriff's Department. With extra roadway patrol on the wane for some departments in the region, existing grants could shift toward education and EMS services in the future.

Northeast Coalition for Roadway Safety facilitator Marisa Ellison said every member of the coalition — which includes law enforcement officials, EMS personnel and other local residents — are united in a goal toward achieving zero roadway fatalities. Coalition members agreed additional patrol efforts across the region would be vital in meeting that goal.

Ellison said the law enforcement equipment grant program began with requests from smaller departments for equipment they were lacking like radar guns, breathalyzers and guns. Each year, available funds are determined using a formula based on the number of fatalities from the previous year. Law enforcement equipment grants currently range from $100 to $3,000 each year, and average annual funds for the region are about $88,000 for education, enforcement and EMS services.

Coalition members will revisit the law enforcement grant program in early May, discussing a possible change focused on additional patrolling for each participating agency.

“What's happened is over the years, especially in the small agencies — and with the unrest in our country — we have discovered that it's harder and harder for these police departments to hire people, and therefore they're always shorthanded,” she said. “They want to be our partner and they have every good intention to be out there and be patrolling, but they don't have enough people to do what they need to do.”

Ellison said several law enforcement agencies in the region make extra patrol an integral part of their operations, like the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Palmyra Police Department.

“[Palmyra Police Chief Eddie Bogue] makes it a priority, because he believes that they can make a difference,” she said. “And that's what we're really asking our law enforcement partners to do — make that overtime, getting out there on the road — a priority. They're stopping more of those distracted, impaired speeders.”

Bogue said the only way to reduce fatalities on the region's roadways is to ramp up enforcement to remove motorists who are not driving safely — he incorporates mandatory four-hour overtime blocks for each officer in his department to help achieve that mission. Extra enforcement goes hand-in-hand with every law enforcement official's goal of keeping citizens safe, Bogue said. Missouri Highway Sergeant Eric Brown said Troop B personnel look year-round at ways to ensure Missourians' safety.

Troop B overtime operations like “Click it or Ticket” seatbelt checks, stopping hazardous moving violations and DWI saturations are based on factors like holidays and festivals that bring more motorist to Missouri roadways. The programs are also focused on areas in the region where more traffic accidents and DWIs occur. For example, Brown said additional troopers will be out during Super Bowl weekend because there is a higher propensity for DWIs.

There were fewer roadway fatalities in Missouri in 2017 than during the preceding year — 934 vehicle fatalities occurred, a decline from 2016's total of 947 deaths — but there have already been 65 fatalities on Missouri roadways this year.

Ellison said it's not possible for enough law enforcement officers to be on the roadways to remove every impaired, distracted or unsafe driver. But three counties in Troop B met the coalition's goal — Schuyler, Knox and Monroe counties did not report any traffic fatalities in 2017.

“That's a great accomplishment, when you look at the number of fatalities across the state,” Brown said.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com