If you drive in Richmond County, you’d better drive right.
A team of officers will be focusing on aggressive and drunken drivers after the sheriff’s office received a grant aimed at reducing crashes and fatalities.
The Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic units are specially trained teams of officers who focus on reducing impaired driving crashes and excessive speeding, increasing seat belt usage and educating the public on traffic safety.
The sheriff’s office has been approved for a $625,000 grant by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety to fund a three-member team over the next three years.
Richmond County, like all of the program participants, was awarded the grant because of a high number of traffic fatalities and crashes.
“Anything we can do to get money through grants is our goal and we definitely want to deter fatalities,” Lt. Lewis Blanchard said.
The grant pays $250,000 in the first year, which includes the salary of two of the three officers; three new, fully equipped police cruisers; and additional technology. The sheriff’s office is required to pay the third officer’s salary.
The rest of the grant money will be used over the remaining two years.
The sheriff’s office is not required to hire new officers. Blanchard said three current officers will be trained for the additional duties.
It’s not the first time the sheriff’s office has been involved with the Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic program. The office received a three-year grant that ended in 2006.
Authorities said it is evident, however, that increased enforcement is needed once again. Fatalities more than doubled in 2011 to 32 and then increased again in 2012 by 37 percent.
Operation Thunder, which ran for three months this year, reduced fatalities by 62 percent from the previous year and reduced crashes by 30 percent.
Blanchard said the results from Operation Thunder prove that increased enforcement is effective. Authorities believe the new unit will assist in continuing to drop the number further.
In additional to normal requirements, the officers’ training will include DUI and field sobriety, Intoxilyzer, Drug Recognition Expert, Advanced Roadside Impaired Driver Enforcement, and child safety seat technician certifications.
The sheriff’s office presented the nonmatching grant to the Augusta Commission’s public safety committee Monday for approval to accept the funding.
Blanchard said the three officers can begin their special activities immediately in their normal patrol cars. The official vehicles are expected to arrive before the end of the year.