Sheriff’s office announces new pilot Traffic Safety Team

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Richard Byrd/Columbia Basin Herald Left to right: Washington Traffic Safety Commissioner Director Dr. Darrin Grondel, Pilot Traffic Safety Team members Adam Hunt, Tom Tufte and Jordan Miers, Grant County Commissioner Cindy Carter and Sheriff Tom Jones.

MOSES LAKE — The Grant County Sheriff’s Office made a big announcement on Thursday regarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funds that will add three additional deputies to the sheriff’s office and institute a pilot Traffic Safety Team, the first of its kind in the state.

Over the past five years there have been a total of 43 fatality collisions on Grant County roads. Further, the number of fatal and serious injury collisions on county roads has either stayed steady or increased over the last three years. The goal behind the pilot project that was announced on Thursday is to gradually reduce those numbers each year and reach the Washington Traffic Commission Safety’s (WTSC) goal of “Target Zero,” which aims to eliminate fatality and serious injury collisions in Washington by 2030.

“This has kind of been a dream for many years to be able to see how do we take and build a full-fledged traffic safety team, especially in a rural community. We’ve seen a lot in some of our metropolitan, some of our more urban areas, but to actually have one really established within a county like this one, funded through the national Highway Traffic Safety Administration (HTSA), is really amazing,” WTSC Director Dr. Darrin Grondel said on Thursday.

In the first year of the project the WTSC will be committing over $600,000 in grant funds, which are provided by the HTSA and managed by the state, to get the program up and running. The funds will cover salaries and benefits for three full-time deputies, funds for Target Zero manager Allison Mitchell to collaborate on community outreach avenues, funds for Spanish-speaking outreach support, funds for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board to collaborate on impairment education and enforcement for businesses that sell alcohol and cannabis, funds for equipment for the three deputies including fully-equipped patrol cars, funds to cover travel and training for the deputies and funds for contract services and goods for communication and educational material needs.

Items totaling $74,250 that were not approved by the federal or state governments for purchase with the grant funds include stop sticks, weapons, tasers, body-worn cameras, uniforms, ballistic vests and/or duty gear.

The three additional deputies brings the GCSO’s total of commissioned personnel to 53. The grant would not be able to sustain three deputies long-term and as a result the county is developing a sustainability plan. Working with the Grant County Commissioners, a plan has been developed to pay the salaries and benefits for one of the deputies for the second year, pay for two deputies for the third year and fully fund the team after that.

“It’s a really special thing to be in partnership with the traffic safety commission to reduce fatality and serious injury collisions,” remarked Sheriff Tom Jones. “Over the past many years the Grant County Sheriff’s Office has worked very closely with the traffic safety commission and Target Zero to achieve that goal. Obviously with the rural counties it’s a little bit more difficult to achieve that goal. But we are, I think, with this pilot project are going to make a huge impact on how we change behaviors of our drivers.”

The three selected deputies to the Pilot Traffic Safety Team are Deputy Adam Hunt, Deputy Tom Tufte and Deputy Jordan Miers. The primary goals of the team are to address distracted driving, impaired driving, speed on rural roads and seat belt and child restraint use. The team will also be working to provide public education and community outreach around the county on traffic safety.

“This Traffic Safety Team, not only will they out enforcing distracted driving, but they will also be in the educational mode. Getting out to our community members,” Jones explained. “That is one of the goals that we are looking at doing: changing driving behaviors.”

The team is expected to be fully up and running on Jan. 1.

Richard Byrd can be reached via email at rbyrd@columbiabasinherald.com.

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