The National Law Enforcement Liaison Program

Recent success in reducing fatal and serious injury crashes continues to drive innovation and the thirst for more reductions. A cornerstone of this success is the data-driven, targeted and aggressive high visibility enforcement (HVE) campaigns strategically launched across the country. These accomplishments would not have been possible without the contribution of the law enforcement community and can be attributed to the work of the state LELs, who rally the law enforcement network to participate in national and state HVE campaigns.

Today, more than 240 local, state and regional LELs work with State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs) to provide law enforcement expertise, encourage involvement in traffic safety initiatives, and act as a liaison between the state’s law enforcement community and the SHSO.

The history of the LEL program begins in the 1970s and 1980s with the creation of the Traffic Safety Specialists (TSSs). A TSS acted as a liaison between the SHSO and law enforcement. They assisted with educating law enforcement on how to apply for grants, what grants were available, reporting activities, setting up programs, and so forth. In essence, a TSS was a LEL, just with a different name.

Operation Buckle Down (OBD) was developed in 1990 as a grant for the states to fund “super cops” to serve as liaisons and spokespersons for a new national effort to increase seat belt use to 70 percent by 1992. NHTSA had grants in most states and these OBD spokespersons, along with NHTSA regional staff, were the individuals who promoted and marketed the program mobilizations to the states in 1991 and 1992.

In 1993, OBD spokespersons were also responsible for helping to implement the first Click it or Ticket program in North Carolina, and in promoting HVE to 20 states that received grant funds from NHTSA from 1993 through 1997.

In 1997, the name was changed from OBD spokespersons or Traffic Safety Specialists to Law Enforcement Liaisons or LELs. This name change was appropriate for stimulating activity in a variety of traffic safety areas, particularly safety belts and impaired driving.

In 1997-1998, NHTSA began adding LELs to the Regional Office to assist the regional program managers with law enforcement coordination and training. The Regional LEL provides technical assistance to the Regional Office to focus attention on NHTSA national priorities within their states, and strengthen the states’ traffic safety efforts. Much of the Regional LELs’ activities include planning, scheduling, and engaging in work that is proactive in nature; this is done through coordination with law enforcement contacts to engage them in traffic safety activity and provide technical assistance in support of NHTSA’s priority programs.

In 2002, the National Law Enforcement Liaison Program (NLELP) was created by NHTSA and GHSA in recognition of the effectiveness of LEL activities in reducing crashes across the country. The purpose of the program is to enhance communications between LELs, ensure greater coordination of LEL activities nationwide, create and support LEL training and guidance workshops to increase the knowledge and skills of LELs, and provide technical assistance. The NLELP is designed to strengthen the work of a proven network of highway safety professionals with enhanced communications tools; updated training; sharing of best practices; exchanging information on new research, policies, and programs; and highlighting successes. It also resulted in training to reflect broader professional development considerations for LELs to enhance their ability to influence action and effectively market traffic safety and enforcement programs, and a continuous review and examination of how the LELs work with law enforcement in the advancement of traffic safety.

Currently, the LEL programs across the country continue to evolve into very efficient and effective resources for gaining law enforcement support and participation in national and state highway safety programs. LELs have a number of resources and tools available to assist with daily operations and maintaining good working relationships with law enforcement partners. Many of these can be found on the various pages of this website.