Captain Ken Clary of the Iowa State Patrol (ISP) describes his agency's partnering with George Mason University's Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy (GMU) in developing a place-based, proactive, and problem-oriented strategy to increase the public's perception of law enforcement presence and thus significantly reduce traffic crashes, injuries, and fatalities in Iowa.
Unlike other strategies that focus on where crashes might cluster, the ISP and GMU analyzed 10 years of crash data to identify potential "hot towns" near crash sites as likely origin points for drivers involved in fatal crashes along Iowa's rural roadways. Analysis of data and crash reports suggests that victims of serious injury and fatal crashes visit these towns, become intoxicated with drugs or alcohol, and then unsafely operate their vehicles (e.g., speeding and seatbelt violations). Research indicates that the perception of a police presence is as important as the presence itself in deterring crime. When impaired citizens drive home from bars in rural Iowa, they take a calculated risk that they won't encounter police, based on their perception that the police don't have a major presence in these areas. In an effort to combat their perception, the ISP implemented community policing efforts that target both the hot spot road segments for crashes and the activity hot spots within the nearby localities that serve as likely origin points for the drivers. Troopers make 10-to-20-minute visits to each hot town, engaging in highly visible citizen interaction at specific locations - such as bars, gas stations, and convenience stores - before moving to the next hot spot. The short-term data indicate that since implementing these tactics, traffic fatalities have declined. The ISP is working with GMU researchers to collect a variety of performance measures for this multiyear project and ultimately conduct a rigorous evaluation of the intervention.