Pubdate: Mon, 26 Nov 2001
Source: Morganton News Herald, The (NC)
Phone: (828) 437-2161
Address: P.O. Box 280, Morganton, N.C. 28680-0280
Author: Cheryl Bollinger


MORGANTON - It started last fall as patrol cars from six separate agencies, 
including the Burke County Sheriff's Office, lined U.S. 70 near the 
Iredell-Rowan county line.

Deputies that day wrote several tickets for no operator's licenses, issued 
a couple of citations for possession of marijuana and at least one person 
went to jail for driving while impaired.

A year later, with 124 similar checkpoints spread throughout Burke, 
Catawba, McDowell, Iredell, Davie and Rowan counties - all located along 
the heavily traveled corridors of Interstates 40, 85 and 77 - deputies have 
racked up more than 6,000 charges ranging from seat belt infractions to 
fugitives on the run.

These are the results of the Sheriff's Traffic Interdiction Team's first 
year. The multi-agency team was formed in 2000 when the state divvied out 
$739,000 in grant money and established the traffic enforcement units with 
jurisdiction rights in all six counties.

Burke County Sheriff John T. McDevitt recently received a detailed 
"accomplishment report" on the project.

"Historically, sheriff's offices have not gotten involved in traffic 
enforcement," McDevitt said. "But this grant allowed us to become involved 
and take a more active stance. These statistics show just how active the 
units have been."

Together the deputies involved, two of whom are from the Burke sheriff's 
office, logged nearly a quarter-million miles on their patrol cars, worked 
23,040 hours and made 6,417 arrests from Oct. 1, 2000 to Sept. 30, 2001.

"This first year went very well," McDevitt said. "It's a win-win situation. 
Not only are we the first in the United States to undertake something like 
this, but we have done it with a multi-sheriff, bipartisan effort.

"This has brought us together to talk about other things, too. This is a 
whole lot bigger than just this grant."

Project director W.T. Belvin with the Rowan County Sheriff's Department 
said the objectives going into the venture included providing each county 
with 12 full-time and eight part-time officers, equipping them with the 
latest, most efficient tools and using the people and the tools to educate 
the public, control crime and reduce accidents on the roadways.

Belvin said the numbers reflect a decrease in "high-risk driving behavior" 
and as a result a reduction in crashes and their related cost in lives and 

"What is not indicated by these numbers," Belvin said, "is the untold 
number of drivers who are sent on their way with a serious but kind word of 
caution, or the elderly driver who has his flat tire changed by a traffic 
officer checking the highway for stranded motorists."

He continued, "The life of a young college student was saved as an 
undetected and serious medical condition led her to be stopped for a 
suspected traffic violation, her family later stating that they felt that 
the officers had kept her from being involved in a serious or possibly 
fatal accident."

The deputies encountered criminals, too.

During the various checkpoints, a total of 21 fugitives were apprehended, 
20 stolen vehicles were recovered and 129 felony drug arrests were made.

"Criminals don't walk to work," McDevitt said. "These types of checkpoints 
led us to solve other crimes" whether it was finding a fugitive, solving a 
breaking and entering case or making a drug-related arrest.

"This grant has made us better equipped to work traffic on a daily basis 
and with other sheriff's offices," he said. "Cooperation is the key to 
effective law enforcement and that is what this thing is all about."

In the three-year grant deal, Burke received $225,750 for two deputies, two 
vehicles, two in-car video cameras, two in-car laptop computers, two radar 
units, two digital telephones, uniforms and a traffic radar trailer.

Belvin said the impact on crime is evident, but the bottom line is saving 

"With every small increase in visibility and enforcement, the likelihood of 
serious or fatal crash decreased and the access to a community is denied to 
a criminal," he said. "If only one life is saved over a given period, it 
indicates that a goal of this project has been reached."
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