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Texas Department of Public Safety graduates 48 new highway patrol troopers

Texas DPS graduation August 5 2017

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steven McCraw was joined by Texas State Representative Mark Keough as the department commissioned 48 men and women as the state’s newest Highway Patrol Troopers.  This 11-week advanced recruit school was specifically designed for current and eligible law enforcement officers to train to become troopers.  This school provided officers an accelerated path to becoming a Trooper, versus the standard course that spans more than 20 weeks.  The C-2017 class includes four women and six military veterans, and the graduates represented 39 different law enforcement agencies.   The troopers began the 11-week training academy in May.  Instruction included counter terrorism, traffic, and criminal law, arrest and control procedures, accident reconstruction, first aid and Spanish.  They also received training in the use of force, communication skills, firearms, driving, criminal interdiction, cultural diversity and physical fitness.  The new troopers will report to duty stations across Texas in the coming weeks and spend the first six months in on-the-job training.

8/9/17

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Grant money will put more state troopers on the road

Alabama state police receive grants

Alabamians can expect to see additional troopers on the roadways thanks to Gov. Kay Ivey.  Ivey has awarded grants totaling $3.5 million to support law enforcement efforts.  According to the Alabama Department of Law Enforcement Cpl. Tracy Nelson, the agency will utilize the funds by having every available trooper on Alabama roadways. “The funds will allow us to have extra funding available for overtime,” Nelson said.  “With funding available for overtime we can increase patrol and safety-checkpoint locations across the state.”  Ivey has indicated the purpose of the grant money is to make Alabama roads safer by preventing injuries and fatalities.  “At this point our fatality rate has increased by 10 from this time last year,” said Trooper Kevin Cook.  “We all have concern in this number.  Going at this rate 2017 will be more deadly than 2016 and records show 2016 was one of the deadliest years in Alabama’s history.”  Gov. Ivey said in a written release that drivers who get behind the wheel while impaired, or disobey traffic laws, present a danger to every motorist on the road.  “The only way we can change a driver’s behavior is to be visible,” Cook said.  “The more troopers we have on the roadways the more we can target speeding, driving while under the influence and seat belt violations.  Visibility, visibility is the only way we can make our roadways safer.”  A portion of the funds received will also go toward the “Click It or Ticket” program and the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” program.  “The time frame for the ‘Click It or Ticket’ program will wrap up soon,” Cook said.  “Once that program wraps up for 2017, we will start the ‘Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over’ program.  This program is scheduled to run through September 3.  This program not only targets driving while under the influence on the roadways, but also on Alabama’s waterways.”

8/8/17

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Arkansas State Troopers surprise 14-year-old with act of kindness

ASP buy bike

A small act of kindness made a big difference for one young boy.  Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Investigator Kristi Kirkwood got a visit from 14-year-old Christopher Wooten. Wooten told her he wanted to be an Arkansas State Trooper and had come to the office to start on the path to his career.  Kirkwood, who isn't an Arkansas State Trooper, said she would pass Wooten's message on to some troopers for him.  However, she ended up passing on a very different message.   When Wooten left, Kirkwood noticed his bike was in very bad shape.  It didn't have a seat and the wheels were beaten up.  Kirkwood reached out to Troop G in Hope to see what she could do for Wooten.  Troop G's Cpl. Bernard Pettit then reached out to Pink Behind the Thin Blue Line, a non-profit organization that his wife is a part of.  "We loved the idea," said member Christy Pettit.  According to her, the board voted on and approved buying Wooten a new bike within five minutes.  Wednesday, according to the Arkansas State Police Facebook page, three Miller County members of Troop G and a member of Pink Behind the Thin Blue Line brought a special surprise to Wooten's house.   "Let me see your bike.  I heard you didn't have a seat on it.  I may have one in my car," said Cpl. Pettit.  Wooten brought out his bike for Cpl. Pettit who then walked to his car.  "Well Chris, I'm sorry I don't have a seat, but I do have a bike," said Cpl. Pettit.  Wooten was speechless. The troopers reassured him several times that the bike was for him.  "It was so precious," said Christy Pettit.  In addition to the bike, Wooten also got to spend some time with the troopers.  They "trained him" on patrol procedures, dash cameras, report writing, and even arrest and search procedures, according to the ASP Facebook page.

8/8/17

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Hundreds attend Oklahoma trooper's funeral in Norman

OKHP Meyer funeral

The deeds of evil men were not lost on the Rev. Jerry Jones as he addressed the hundreds of somber state police officers and civilians who sat before him Monday in a college basketball arena.  “We live in a hellish world,” Jones said, his tone calm but stern.  “You do and you see things that we don’t want to see,” Jones said, addressing the troopers present.  “May God bless you, you men and women who wear the uniform.”  Those in attendance at the Lloyd Noble Center gathered for the funeral of Lt. Donald Heath Meyer, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper killed earlier this month during a car chase.   Meyer, 43, had lain stop sticks on Interstate 35 near N 27 in Moore during a July 14 chase, when he was struck by another trooper's cruiser.   Jones and Meyer were both pastors at Anchor Church, 1200 Lakewood Drive, which Meyer and his wife started in their home almost a decade ago.  Meyer joined the Oklahoma Highway Patrol in 2005, after graduating from Oklahoma Baptist University the year before.  He was the 36th Oklahoma trooper to die in the line of duty.  “We ask our troopers to go out and do incredibly dangerous work.  It’s volatile, and sometimes it’s violent," Oklahoma Department of Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson said to those  gathered.   Thompson is a tall, stoic man, but his deep voice wavered as he read to Meyer’s family a proclamation from Gov. Mary Fallin honoring the fallen trooper’s service to the state.  Thompson worked in the same building as Meyer, he recalled after the funeral, and Meyer was just as much a pastor at work as he was from behind the pulpit.  He was quick to put others at ease with a warm smile and handshake.  Meyer’s father-in-law was a trooper, and through that example he saw another opportunity to give, Thompson said.  “He just has a servant’s heart,” Thompson said.  He added that Meyer volunteered to work in Troop A, which covers the metro area and is the biggest and busiest troop in the patrol.  Dozens of Oklahoma state troopers filed into the east entrance of the center Monday morning.  The wives of several troopers dotted the line every five or six officers, their bright dresses standing in stark contrast with the tan trooper uniforms.  State police from every state bordering Oklahoma, as well as some from as far away as Georgia and Illinois, filed in behind them in full dress.  The driver of the fleeing vehicle, D'Angelo Ladon Burgess, 28, was arrested the night of the accident.  Burgess remained in the Cleveland County jail Monday afternoon, held on a $5 million bail.  He was charged Thursday with first-degree murder, eluding a police officer and drug and paraphernalia possession.  At the time of the crash, Burgess was out on bail and facing charges connected to a similar incident the year before. Burgess was arrested in June 2016 after a pursuit that ended when he crashed a car.  Meyer also worked that crash, Ricky Adams, the highway patrol chief, confirmed.  At the funeral, Adams told his fellow troopers he recognizes the dangers involved in situations they face every day.  “They’re uncertain, they’re ambiguous and they’re volatile," Adams said. "Saying all that, we place you there to face down evil and restore order out of chaos.”

8/4/17

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Washington State Patrol vehicles get carbon monoxide alerts

WSP Ford SUV

The Washington State Patrol is equipping hundreds of its vehicles with carbon-monoxide detectors after six troopers since January have reported feeling sick from possibly inhaling exhaust fumes.  Crews will install the devices in 634 Ford Explorer Police Interceptors over the next few weeks, according to State Patrol Capt. Shane Nelson.  The move comes amid a months long federal investigation into a version of the Ford Explorer over worries of exhaust-fume problems nationwide.  Ford has responded to the numerous carbon-monoxide claims by promising to make repairs as it investigates the complaints.  According to a statement on the State Patrol’s blog, six troopers reported symptoms associated with possibly breathing in carbon monoxide while at work in Interceptors, a high-performance version of the Ford Explorer used by law enforcement.  They made the reports January through mid-July.  Two troopers were hospitalized, and released, Nelson said at a news conference Friday, which the State Patrol streamed online.  Officials confirmed there was measurable carbon monoxide in the system of one of the troopers.  Both have returned to work.  “We wanted to get in front of it, make sure everybody was protected,” Nelson said of the detector being installed in troopers’ vehicles.  Symptoms of carbon-monoxide poisoning include dizziness, weakness, shortness of breath and nausea or vomiting.  Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating complaints of exhaust odors and possible carbon-monoxide exposure in 1.33 million Ford Explorers across the nation.  Among the complaints, three involved crashes and 41 were reports of injuries, such as loss of consciousness, nausea and headaches.  In Texas, the Austin Police Department has pulled nearly 400 of its Ford Explorers off the street.  More than 60 officers there have reported health problems since February, and more than 20 were found to have measurable carbon monoxide in their systems, city officials said.  Ford said in a statement it has discovered holes and unsealed spaces in the back of some police-department Interceptors that had equipment installed after leaving Ford’s factory.  The company said police and fire departments routinely drill holes in the backs of vehicles to add customized lighting, radios and other equipment.

8/3/17

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Rhode Island State Police receive top-level accreditation from national group

RISP CALEA

The Rhode Island State Police have received a “gold standard assessment” from the national Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies.  Col. Ann Assumpico announced Sunday morning that the State Police received the Accreditation with Excellence award from the organization, which is the highest level of accreditation that CALEA awards.  The State Police become the only law enforcement agency in the state to receive top-level accreditation.  The State Police have been accredited since 1994 but decided to go even further and apply for the more rigorous Accreditation with Excellence award, which demands that they meet or exceed 480 professional standards outlined by CALEA.  The CALEA assessment concluded last week as the State Police hosted the CELEA 2017 Summer Conference, at which many other departments concluded assessments.  According to Col. Assumpico, the CALEA Review Committee praised the State Police for diversity in its ranks, the low number of complaints filed against its personnel, having few vehicle pursuits, and for having a police dog specifically training in finding electronic equipment used in cyber crimes.  “This is a tremendous honor earned by the hard-working men and women who serve the citizens of our state with professionalism and pride,” Assumpico said in a statement.  “It also underscores our commitment to providing Rhode Islanders with exceptional law enforcement that meets or exceeds national standards at every level.”

8/2/17

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Tennessee Highway Patrol conducts traffic stop, locates 28 pounds of marijuana

 

THP Marijuana bust

On July 12th, 2017, Trooper Al Seitner of the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Cookeville District stopped a vehicle in Putnam County for following another vehicle too closely.  The driver, 25-year-old Jonathan Kossa of Cookeville, Tennessee appeared extremely nervous for a simple traffic violation.  While talking to Kossa, Trooper Seitner observed a large cardboard box in the back seat of the vehicle.  When asked what was in the box, Kossa said he did not know as he was transporting the box for his roommate.  Consent to search the vehicle was requested and Kossa denied.  Trooper Seitner requested K-9 assistance from the Cookeville Police Department.  Their K-9 made a positive alert on the vehicle.  A search of the vehicle revealed 18 vacuum sealed packages of marijuana (approximately 28 lbs) inside the cardboard box.  Kossa was arrested for possession of Schedule VI narcotics for manufacture, sale and delivery.

8/2/17

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Maryland State Police to Support National Night Out Efforts

National Night Out

Maryland State Police will join communities and other law enforcement agencies across the state on Tuesday, August 1 in support of National Night Out.  National Night Out is an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods safer, more caring places to live.  Communities from Western Maryland to the Baltimore region to the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland have a variety of events planned for National Night Out.  From block parties and festivals to parades, cookouts and other community events, neighborhoods are reaching out to Maryland State Police and other law enforcement  agencies as a part of this collaborative effort.  Citizens who attend a National Night Out event in their respective communities will have the chance to interact with troopers and learn ways to help make their neighborhood a safer place to live.  Since the inaugural event in 1984, National Night Out has grown from 2.7 million Americans participating in 400 communities in 23 states to more than 37 million people and 15,000 communities from all 50 states, U.S. territories, Canadian cities and military bases worldwide.

7/31/17

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From homeless to Highway Patrol officer

CHP Officer From Homeless to officer

A former Sacramento homeless man is now a new CHP officer.  Edwin Lopez, now 26, was 21 years old when he was homeless.  He used to sleep on benches in North Laguna Creek Park where he spent many nights hoping, praying, and sleeping.  "I was pretty new with my job and ended up getting cut at my job," Lopez said.  He was working at a tire shop in Elk Grove in 2012.  At first, he lost his apartment and then his car.  He was able to get some money since he was in the reserves but it wasn't much.  He used the money to buy some food and to pay for his phone bill so potential employers could still contact him.  He said he didn't try to get help from the government and his family wasn't in a position to help him.  "The thing is I got help here and there, but at the time I can't expect anyone to fully pay for an apartment and food and my car," said Lopez.  Lopez said the seven to eight months he was homeless was a blur.  "Honestly all those months blurred into one time," Lopez said.  "I took it upon myself to do whatever I could to get out of the situation."  He showered when he was able to sleep with friends and couch surf.  As for food, he checked dumpsters near restaurants.  He spent a majority of his time by the park and also near his old apartment.  It was a place he was familiar and found comfort.  He learned a lot during his time homeless not only about survival but how to budget wisely.  "A lot of people complain about not having enough money based off their job but a lot of it is just how you spend your money," Lopez said.  Today, he lives in Castro Valley getting adjusted to his new job and his soon to be new title as husband.

Watch video at:  http://www.wfmynews2.com/news/features/former-sacramento-homeless-man-now-chp-officer/459361451

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Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lieutenant succumbs to injuries sustained while on duty

OKHP Officer Down Heath Meyer1

Lieutenant Heath Meyer succumbed to injuries sustained 10 days earlier when he was struck by a patrol car on I-35, near SW 27th Street, in Moore.  He had deployed stop sticks on I-35 as other troopers pursued a vehicle on the interstate.  Two of the patrol cars collided as they attempted to avoid the stop sticks.  One of the patrol cars then struck Lieutenant Meyer.  The vehicle being pursued continued to flee, however, the driver was taken into custody later in the night and charged in connection with the incident.  Lieutenant Meyer was transported to the University of Oklahoma Medical Center, where he remained until succumbing to his injuries.  Lieutenant Meyer had served with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol for 12 years. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.

7/26/17

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State Police vehicles get new look

PSP New cruiser

On the road, the Pennsylvania State Police is going gray.  Or, more precisely, “Sterling Metallic Gray,” said Ryan Tarkowski, a spokesman for the state police.  Over the next three years, the black-and-white state police fleet will be gradually replaced with medium gray vehicles emblazoned with the word Trooper on the car doors in light gray, reflective letters a foot tall.  A Pennsylvania flag is emblazoned on one side while the American flag is on the other side.  The paint color, stock for Ford, matches the color of state trooper uniforms.  “We’re looking to better define the image of the department,” Tarkowski said.  The SUVs and sedans are being cycled into the fleet as the older models reach the end of their life spans which, Tarkowski said, means the color scheme is rolled out at no additional cost to the state.  “The first batch went to recruiters across the state and now they’re being rolled out as needed as other vehicles age out,” he said.  The gray state police vehicles are slowly appearing at each of the four stations which make up the Dunmore-based Troop R, which encompasses Lackawanna, Wayne, Susquehanna and Pike Counties, Trooper Mark Keyes, a spokesman for Troop R said.  Approximately four are on the road in the troop, Capt. Chris Paris said.  The state police had last changed their vehicle color scheme — to the now passé black and white — in 1991.

7/25/17

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Highway Patrol graduates largest class in 43 years

SDHP July 2017 graduation

South Dakota drivers will soon see new faces patrolling the roads.   The South Dakota Highway Patrol is welcoming its largest group of new troopers in more than four decades - and the most women to ever graduate in one class - to the department this week.   The 20 new troopers, who graduated Friday in Pierre, was the largest class since 1974, when 25 recruits were hired to patrol the state.  The typical size the last years has been around 10 to 13.   This year's class also has the largest number of women graduating at once in agency history.  Five of the 20 new troopers are women.  Why the increase in overall numbers and women recruits?   Better, more personal marketing of law enforcement as a community service, says Col. Craig Price, superintendent of the Highway Patrol.  "There are a lot of people out there who have an interest in helping their community," Price said.  The Highway Patrol did do a few extra recruiting efforts to try and interest more women in the department, Price said, but said the main focus was finding "the most qualified people."   Recruits went through basic law enforcement training, the South Dakota Highway Patrol Recruit Academy and field training. The entire process takes about one year.  Recruits go through a 13-week basic law enforcement training with other agency recruits before moving on to highway patrol-specific training.  They spend an additional five months in classroom training and another three in the field.   "It's intense.  These folks go through extreme training," Price said.  "It's critically important for families and our (troopers) that they know what they're doing."   The graduation ceremony was held Friday morning in Pierre and many of the troopers will be on duty the next day.

                 7/24/17

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Hundreds pay last respects to fallen state police trooper

PSP Trooper Stewarts funeral

Hundreds of state police personnel filled Latrobe on Tuesday to pay respects to a local trooper killed in a two-vehicle crash while on duty Friday.  Trooper Michael P. Stewart, 26, of Latrobe died in the crash between his police cruiser and a McInchok Sanitation truck on state Route 711 near Route 271 in Ligonier Township around 2:20 a.m. July 14.  Stewart's partner, Trooper Travis November, walked into the funeral Mass at Holy Family Roman Catholic Church on crutches, bandages visible on his face.  November suffered a concussion and other injuries in the accident, state police said.  Stewart's funeral was also attended by police officers from at least 20 states – including California, Maine, Michigan, Colorado, Texas and New York – along with Gov. Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Col. Tyree Blocker.  The church was filled to its capacity of 1,100, said Trooper Stephen Limani, public information officer. Some attendees were forced to sit outside and listen to the service through speakers.  "The turnout was absolutely amazing," he said.  "Our department is still reeling from Trooper Stewart's passing and we appreciate the outpouring of support from the people in the community," Limani said.  "They've been nothing but spectacular."  The Rev. Robert Byrnes, chaplain for the state police barracks in Greensburg, where Stewart was stationed, described meeting 14-year-old Stewart who was a participant in Camp Cadet.  "If God has state troopers patrolling the highways of heaven, I'm sure you'll be one of the very best," Byrnes said.  Johnstown Police Department Chief Robert Johnson, Capt. Jeff Janciga and two other Johnstown officers attended the funeral.  Johnson, who was patrol section commander at the Greensburg barracks, said he knew Stewart.  "He was a great guy," Johnson said.  "It's a loss for the entire community."  Cambria County Sheriff Bob Kolar, a retired state policeman, was at the state sheriff's conference when the news of Stewart's passing circulated.  Numerous Pennsylvania sheriffs are retired from the state police, Kolar said, and described the mood at the conference as "somber," before a moment of silence was observed in Stewart's memory.  "It hit home with a lot of us," Kolar said.  "You don't expect things like this to happen.  Anything can happen at any time."  Dan Zakraysek, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Flood City Lodge No. 86, said he was shocked to hear the news of Stewart's passing.  "It's just one of those freak accidents that happened," he said.  Zakraysek, a former Upper Yoder Township police chief, said his thoughts are also with November, who will have to cope with the loss of his partner.  "A real bond develops there between those guys," he said.  Stewart's sudden death is a reminder to officers that coming home from work isn't always a guarantee, Zakraysek added.  "Every day you go out, you don't think about it, but it's in the deep back of your mind that this could happen," he said.  Johnson said state police and law enforcement as a whole are a community that will assist Stewart's family and friends through the loss.  "It's a family like no other," he said.  "The support doesn't stop after the funeral."  During a press conference Friday, state police said Stewart and his patrol partner, November, were on routine patrol during the overnight shift, traveling southbound on Route 711, when the garbage truck driven by 26-year-old John Hissem made a left-hand turn out of a parking lot to head north.  That's when Stewart's cruiser collided with the front end of the garbage truck, Limani said, with the majority of the impact hitting where Stewart was sitting.  Westmoreland County Coroner Kenneth Bacha ruled Stewart's death as accidental and listed blunt force trauma to the head as the cause.  Stewart died on scene at 3:10 a.m., according to a release from Bacha's office.  The crash remains under investigation as state police try to determine what caused the crash and if anyone is at fault.  Stewart enlisted in the Pennsylvania State Police in January 2014 and was a member of the 138th cadet class of graduates before being assigned to the patrol unit in Troop A, Greensburg, in August 2015.   He had previously been assigned to Troop H in Chambersburg, Franklin County.  Stewart is the 98th member of the Pennsylvania State Police to be killed in the line of duty and the eighth from Troop A in Greensburg.

7/20/17

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Law enforcement from across the country come to pay their final respects for Trooper Joel R. Davis

 

NYSP Trooper Joel Davis funeral

 

Large crowds of people gathered in downtown Watertown to pay their final respects to slain state police Trooper Joel R. Davis.  Trooper Davis was one of two killed on Sunday during a shooting incident on County Route 46,Theresa.  Also killed was Nichole Walters, wife of alleged shooter Justin D. Walters.  “I thought it would be the right thing to do to pay my respects,” said Stephen M. Washer II, while waiting on Public Square.  Mr. Washer said Trooper Davis’s brother Joshua is a “really well respected man in the Watertown Police Department” and wished to show respect and support to the family.  The procession traveled around the north side of Public Square before heading up Washington Street to Brookside Cemetery.  Earlier, a crowd of hundreds of law enforcement officers and community members attended a funeral at Fort Drum’s Magrath Sports Complex.  Pastor Shane Ryan, Watertown City Police officer, said Trooper Davis was a family man who protected his brother Joshua, loved his children Trenton, Caden, and Jaila and cared for his wife Suzanne.  “He always knew what to do when she had a rough day, or she was stressed out,” Pastor Ryan said.  He said Trooper Davis loved dancing with his children to songs from Notorious B.I.G., and playing them in mini golf.  “He was the champ at that,” Pastor Ryan said.  The pastor said Trooper Davis loved to have fun, recalling games of 2-on-2 football in the parking lot of a Tim Hortons.  He said being there at the hospital on Sunday for the Davis family as they learned what happened “was one of the worst experiences you can imagine.”  However, it reminded him that Trooper Davis, his family and grieving law enforcement were with each other in their time of sorrow.  “You realize you never walk alone,” he said.  State police Superintendent George P. Beach II said Trooper Davis was loved by the community, and was someone who took pride in his work.  “Joel knew this was a place he could make a difference, and he was good at it,” he said.  The superintendent said that Trooper Davis was dedicated to his family, at one point resigning from the state police academy to return home.  “He was willing to give up his dream to be with his loved ones,” he said.  Trooper Davis later returned to the academy and graduated on time with his class.  Superintendent Beach praised Trooper Davis’s heroism in response to the shooting on County Route 46, Theresa, that resulted in the loss of his life.  “He ran toward gunfire to protect the innocent and prevent further bloodshed,” he said.  “That is a trooper.  That is a hero.  That is bravery.”  The ceremony began with a performance of “Amazing Grace,” followed by readings from Psalm 23, the poem “The Dash” by Linda Ellis and Matthew 5:1-12.  Trooper Davis’s uniform, handcuffs, patch and badge are being displayed in shadow boxes on each side of his casket, sharing space with his hats representing his time as a state trooper and Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy.  A series of photos of the trooper on duty have been displayed along the wall, along with a large American flag.  Prior to the ceremony, law enforcement officials spoke to media about the fallen trooper.  Philip T. Rougeux, state police Troop D commander, said Trooper Davis was a hero.  “He definitely saved three lives that day,” he told media assembled before the funeral.  Superintendent Beach told media that he spoke to Trooper Davis’s father Friday, and added that the Davis family has appreciated the community’s support this week.  He noted the trooper who arrested Walters on Sunday night had been trained by Trooper Davis.  Jefferson County Sheriff Colleen M. O’Neill called Saturday a “sad day,” and said her office and Watertown city police are comforted seeing representatives at the funeral from departments across the United States and Canada.  Law enforcement have come to the department from as far away as California, Utah and North Carolina.  Also in attendance are representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  Law enforcement in attendance gathered in formation prior to entering the gym for the funeral.  Among those in attendance was Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

7/19/17

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Texters beware: Highway Patrol is rolling out new tools to catch you

UHP distracted driving

Three Utah Highway Patrol troopers looked out the windows of a black 15-passenger van, searching for drivers focused on their cellphones instead of the road.  Almost immediately, one trooper spotted a driver using a cellphone and alerted one of seven nearby troopers, who moved in to make a traffic stop.  The van — an experiment UHP rolled out last month — headed north on Interstate 15 at 2:45 p.m. Thursday with an entourage of reporters for a four-hour effort to catch distracted drivers.  While the van isn't exactly unmarked — "stop the texts, end the wrecks" is printed on its sides — it blends into traffic better than a trooper's car.  And its passengers have an elevated advantage, such as seeing into cars better than troopers in vehicles lower to the ground.  In general, troopers are trained to keep their heads on a near-constant swivel while they drive.  And although they continue to actively look for violations, having spotters relieves some of the pressure to catch all distracted drivers.  Depending on how well the experiment goes, the van may be used more regularly.  By 7 p.m., seven troopers had pulled over 40 drivers.  Some 26 drivers received warnings, seven others received tickets, according to public relations director Marissa Villansenor Cote.  One driver heading north near Parrish Lane was pulled over without a tip from the van.  "Like right there," Trooper Derek Shelby said to a Salt Lake Tribune reporter who was riding in the passenger seat.  "On his cellphone."  Shelby saw the man looking at his phone, holding it chest-level.  The man saw Shelby, too.  He and his passenger seemed caught off guard, despite driving right next to a marked UHP car.  The man admitted to looking at his phone; he was expecting a text from a family member, he said, and was checking to see if he had gotten it.  "I explained to him that pretty much any time you have your phone in your hand, it's a hazard," Shelby said after issuing the man a ticket.  Shelby doesn't stop every seemingly distracted driver.  Unless he can see the phone, he waits to decide whether they aren't paying enough attention to the road.  For example, a man who glanced down multiple times while driving near Bountiful.  "Like him, he just looked down. He's looking down again.  Looking down again.  Looks down again," Shelby said, deciding whether to make a traffic stop.  He decided against it, because "there are certain things you can do with your phone."  For example, GPS. Shelby hesitates to stop people when he can't see their phones, in case their glances are just to check directions.  Not everyone who uses their phone gets pulled over; troopers want to make sure "without a doubt" people are breaking the law first, said Lt. Cory Nye, one of the spotters in the van.  Utah Code prohibits using a "handheld wireless communication," such as a cellphone, to "write, send, or read text or data" while driving.  Law enforcement can't pull someone over for just talking on the phone or use GPS while driving, though it can be a secondary offense, but texting alone could land drivers a class C misdemeanor and a fine.  In 2016, troopers pulled over 369 drivers for texting while driving during operations in which officers specifically targeted distracted drivers, according to an annual UHP report.  Statistics on total distracted-driving citations for 2016 were not immediately available.  "But we all know, driving down the road every day, we can see people on their phones, distracted as they're driving," said Lt. Beau Mason.  As rush hour began on Thursday, traffic picked up and drivers slowed down and more phones came out.  "The beginning of rush hour.  The fun begins," Nye said.  Ten seconds later: "There's a guy right there."  Drivers to the right and left of the van had phones pulled out; one driver looking at his phone had two children buckled in the back seat.  Another driver put his phone on the dashboard when he noticed he'd caught a trooper's attention.  Some drivers didn't notice the big black van at all.  At least twice before 4:45 p.m., the van pulled to the side of the road to wait, as all seven troopers were occupied with distracted drivers.  "See, when speeds slow down, people start figuring they can do other things other than driving," Nye said, as he pointed out a woman looking through her purse while she drove.  One trooper pulled over a semi driver who had a fold-out map stretched across his lap.  It's the second day UHP has taken the spotter van out.  UHP tried the van out for the first time last month in Utah County.  And officials intend to continue to use it when they can.  The troopers will analyze how Thursday's operation went and decide when they can schedule another spotting event.  "We'd like to see it keep going," Nye said.  But that will depend on resources, such as time, money and available troopers.  Anecdotally, Nye said he has seen an increase in distracted driving in his 19 years on the force.  A lot of the distractions he sees are phones, but he sees people applying makeup and eating cereal, as well.  Not everyone gets a ticket; it's up to the trooper's discretion.  "Most troopers are going to watch and see [if they] are a hazard to others, and they address accordingly," Mason said.

7/17/17

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