Montana Department of Transportation

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Research

Understanding Law Enforcement Attitudes and Beliefs about Traffic Safety

A police car with flashing lights on image The goal of this project was to understand how the culture within law enforcement agencies impacts engagement in traffic safety enforcement. The four objectives were to understand: (1) how law enforcement leaders and officers prioritize traffic safety relative to other public safety issues; (2) self-reported attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors about traffic safety enforcement activities; (3) law enforcement’s perceptions of how traffic safety enforcement behaviors have changed in recent years; and (4) how prioritization of traffic safety attitudes, beliefs, enforcement behaviors, and perceptions of change vary between leaders and officers, agency types, and urban and rural settings. A survey was developed, pilot tested, and completed by a total of 568 officers in 19 agencies (four statewide, six sheriff’s offices, and nine municipal agencies) in four states (Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, and Montana). The survey results were augmented by 10 interviews with law enforcement leaders. On average, officers indicated traffic safety and enforcement were relatively high priorities with statewide agencies rating it higher than sheriff’s offices or municipal agencies. An individual officer’s prioritization was strongly correlated with their perception of how others prioritized traffic safety and enforcement – especially their perceptions of other officers in their agency and their immediate supervisor. On average, officers reported positive attitudes about traffic safety enforcement and shared supportive beliefs. However, some had beliefs that were not supportive of enforcement behaviors including perceiving a lack of support for traffic safety enforcement from local prosecutors and judges and a lack of recognition by their agency and supervisor for regularly engaging in traffic safety enforcement. The most significant barriers to regular enforcement were lack of time and lack of follow through by prosecutors and judges. While many officers indicated they knew where locations with traffic safety concerns were located, far fewer indicated they were well briefed on crash data and enforcement activities in their jurisdiction. Officers who participated in four or more training activities (related to traffic safety enforcement) in the past three years were two times more likely to engage in frequent traffic safety enforcement compared to officers who indicated participating in two or fewer training activities. About one-quarter of officers (24%) reported decreases in three or more enforcement areas (i.e., not wearing a seat belt, speeding/aggressive, impaired, and distracted driving). A similar portion (28%) reported increases in three or more enforcement areas. Recommendations for growing engagement in traffic safety enforcement are included.

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