Herald JournalHerald Journal, March 15, 2004

Local police helping state patrol make roads safer

By Ryan Gueningsman

Local police cars may be spotted more on McLeod County Roads 1 and 9, and even Highway 7, at the recent request of the Minnesota State Patrol.

There are currently three “roving teams” of squads that will cover the entire district from now until October as part of a saturation effort to change driving behavior and hold drivers accountable for their actions behind the wheel.

The state patrol is asking communities within the district to have their police departments work more closely in identifying problem traffic areas. The patrol is also offering the local departments the opportunity to participate in these saturations.

Winsted and Lester Prairie police departments have both been given the go-ahead to participate in the saturations when available.

Last year, there were 657 deaths on Minnesota highways, which is the highest number since 1981. In 2003, McLeod County saw 509 crashes, with three of those resulting in a death.

“This is a critical problem,” said State Patrol Safety Education Officer Jaci Sticha. “We shouldn’t accept it.”

State Patrol District 2200 Captain Lori Hodapp was on hand at last Monday’s Lester Prairie City Council meeting to present information to the council about the program.

“You all drive, and I think you understand what’s going on out there,” Hodapp said. “It’s becoming an aggressive world and a fast-paced society and our structure hasn’t kept up with that.”

Hodapp noted that traffic is the state patrol’s primary obligation, although not the only duty of the department.

“In the past, we weren’t doing a lot of teamwork efforts,” she said. “We’re not asking for more time on the roads or increases in overtime, we just want to change our method of operation.”

There will be saturations five or six times a year. One was done recently on a snowy day, and 153 vehicles were stopped.

“The wave we already did had some impact,” said Winsted Police Chief Mike Henrich.

It was also noted that there will not be any special costs to the cities for participating in these saturations.

This saturation project is not because of state budget cuts, but rather it is working together to make roadways safer, Hodapp said.

“I see the future and don’t think we can be operating the way we are,” she said.

Both Winsted and Lester Prairie will be focusing their efforts on McLeod County Roads 9 and 1, in addition to Highway 7.

“Lester Prairie officers will be no further from Lester Prairie than five miles,” said Lester Prairie Police Chief Bob Carlson.

Henrich also noted that his boundaries on Highway 7 will be from Falcon Avenue east to the county line.

“We want to work with Lester Prairie in that we’ll cover north of Highway 7, and they’ll cover south,” he added. “The state patrol has assisted us whenever we needed them, and I think it’s only becoming that we assist them if they ask. It also shows cooperation between law enforcement on a limited basis.”

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