GFPD conducting “high visibility enforcement” on 10th Avenue South

Drive much on 10th Avenue South in Great Falls?

Whenever you do, it will behoove you to pay extra attention to your driving for the foreseeable future.

A new team of officers are paying particular attention to 10th Avenue South in an effort to decrease traffic incidents and injury crashes. The officers will be in marked and unmarked cars, “so you never know really,” and conducting “high visibility enforcement,” according to Capt. Rob Moccasin of the Great Falls Police Department.

They are the new Directed Enforcement Team, or DET, comprised of MPOs Green and Scheer and SPOs Draper and McAdam, and are led by Sgt. Munkres. The team falls under Moccasin’s leadership as the patrol division commander.

DET officers, and other officers, will be looking for distracted driving, unsafe lane changes, red light violations, illegal turns, right of way violations, speeding, and cell phone use while driving.

The goal is to reduce the amount of time officer spend answering traffic and accident calls on 10th, freeing them up to do more proactive and preventative policing, Moccasin said.

The department has compiled and analyzed data from the last three years and worked with the city’s mapping specialist to develop what they call a “heat map” that shows hotspots and problem areas.

Downtown was the largest hotspot and the department implemented the Data Driven Approach to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS) Zone, which Moccasin said has lowered crime but crashes in the zone haven’t decreased significantly. The end of May marked a full calendar year of the program and the department is now analyzing that data to determine if their efforts are effective or if anything needs to be changed.

The DET will work with the GFPD’s Business Residential Involving Community, BRIC, Officer Adam Hunt within the DDACTS zone as well.

After downtown, 10th Avenue South was the next major hotspot. Last summer, there were 128 reported crashes on 10th Avenue South.

DET gives the department options when they see a spoke in certain type of crime, or certain areas, to have a team available to focus on it, Moccasin said.

When he took over patrol in 2015, he and other department officials knew they wanted to do something with the swing shift, they just weren’t sure what and through that thought process, they developed the DET.

The team will be data driven, as are many of their efforts and though they’re starting with a focus on 10th Avenue South, it doesn’t mean crashes and crime aren’t happening elsewhere, they just aren’t happening at such high rates, Moccasin said.

Moccasin said that while officers have discretion, there won’t be a lot of warnings for violations on 10th Avenue, and there will be as close to possible as zero tolerance on cell phone violations.

Many times, officers can’t definitively prove a driver was using the phone, but “we know it’s a contributing factor,” Moccasin said.

The program is not a revenue driver, Moccasin said, but an effort to reduce accidents on 10th Avenue South.

“We know from experiences, the only way to reduce injury accidents is enforcement,” he said. “We’d prefer to have voluntary compliance, but clearly that’s not working.”

Moccasin acknowledged that everyone gets impatient while driving sometimes, but have to pay attention to reduce accidents.

“It all gets better,” he said, if they can reduce accidents since insurance rates can go down, lost wages, injuries and healthcare costs are all impacted by injury accidents.

Moccasin said crashes cost the community more than crime, in terms of dollars, but crime often takes a more emotional toll on those involved.

DET officers will be focused on 10th Avenue South, or other specific needs of the department, during their 10-hour shift, which can relieve some of the load for patrol officers. Moccasin said it’s hard for regular patrol officers to make traffic stops since they’re so busy answering calls and they usually only have six minutes per hour of free time, making preventative work also challenging.

DET is an annual assignment for the patrol division, so the officers on the team could change after the first year and it creates some movement within the division.

Moccasin said they’ll continue to collect data and evaluate how effective the DET is over time. If it’s not working, they’ll stop and try something else.

“We’re not afraid of that,” Moccasin said.

Though the DET is focusing on 10th Avenue South and there is a focus on the DDACTS zone, officers are still patrolling the entire city, Moccasin said.

All patrol officers are aware of the violations the DET is looking for on 10th, as is the Montana Highway Patrol and Cascade County Sheriff’s Office, Moccasin said. Officers from other agencies can make a traffic stop and call GFPD to the scene to issue the citation.

GFPD is also working with the Montana Department of Transportation to address any road design, light timing, or other traffic flow issues they identify while conducting their high visibility enforcement on 10th Avenue South. Moccasin said the local MDT office has been helpful in sending staff to the scene of major accidents and helping redirect traffic and notifying commercial carriers if there’s a prolonged road closure on routes like 10th.

Overall, GFPD wants people to drive defensively, follow the rules and stay off their phones while driving.

“Tenth will be a better place,” Moccasin said.