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Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office honored with national award for officer traffic safety

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EVERETT — A change in culture is never easy for any organization but Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary knew his department needed to drastically improve efforts to keep officers and the public safe.  “We’d had a series of collisions. We had a series of litigation claims, lost work time and injured people and knew that one change to policy or some new training wasn’t going to cut it,” said Sheriff Trenary.

Nationwide, traffic-related deaths continue to be one of the leading causes of line-of-duty deaths for law enforcement.  In 2016, 53 officers were killed in traffic-related incidents which accounted for almost 40% of all US police line-of-duty deaths that year, a 10% increase from 2015.

So, the department changed their pursuit policy in early 2016 to protect the public and deputies so that they would only give chase if the public was in imminent danger. “They are so courageous and they work so hard that sometimes catching a bad guy, they’ll put themselves in harm’s way and sometimes, we just have to put the reins on,” said Undersheriff Rob Beidler.

It’s one step in a 15 prong approach to safety that has earned them national recognition. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office was selected as the 2017 recipient of the Officer Traffic Safety Award by the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund.  To be recognized as the top agency nationally for officer traffic safety is a big deal to us. We’ve worked really, really hard to make some improvements. We had a long ways to go,” said Sheriff Trenary.

The agency experienced 11 on-duty collisions in 2015 that resulted in major injury for employees and civilians.  The cost of these collisions included $151,000  in medical, legal and wage costs, three totaled patrol cars and $2.3 million in litigation costs.

The Sheriff’s Office incorporated the tenets and testimonials of Below 100, a national program designed to eliminate preventable line-of-duty deaths and injuries, into agency-wide communications and mandatory training. At the end of 2016, the Sheriff’s Office saw a significant reduction in traffic-, pursuit-, and collision-related injuries and damages, decreasing major injury collisions by 32% and pursuits by 38%.  “We’re not saving pennies here. We’re saving millions or potentially millions. Litigation, equipment costs, fuel savings, not to mention injuries to our citizens, to our deputies.” said Undersheriff Breidler.

In addition, all Sheriff’s Office commissioned employees – deputies and supervisors were required to attend or watch a presentation by Kim Schlau, the mother of two daughters killed by a speeding Illinois State trooper.  “That’s a tough thing to listen to a woman who has lost two children at the hands of law enforcement but she’s there to make us better,” said Sheriff Trenary.

The department made safety not just a work initiative but a personal one for deputies. “We brought spouses in and taught them about what we are trying to do, the importance of safety and asked them to encourage their significant others when they are headed out to work to remember safety,” said Sheriff Trenary.

Their hope is that other law enforcement agencies  across the country will see the benefits and adopt some of the same national standards and local efforts that worked in Snohomish County. “Every day the first thing we think about and talk about is how do we make people safer,” said Undersheriff Beidler