By Janet K. Hawkins
Since his election in 2014, Sheriff Clint Shrum has been at the head of roadway safety accomplishments in in Grundy County, Tennessee. Traffic fatalities have decreased dramatically, while impaired driving arrests and safety restraint usage rates have soared, and the Department of Safety and the Tennessee Highway Patrol formally recognized the sheriff’s office and two area police departments for their accomplishments in 2015.
Below, Sheriff Shrum shares insight on how his experiences as a police officer and an LEL have helped him achieve success in his role as sheriff.
First, would you briefly describe your professional background?
I really got involved in traffic safety in 1999, while with the Winchester Police Department. At the time, the [Tennessee] Governor’s Highway Safety Office (GHSO) was promoting Click It or Ticket. Through that initiative, we developed a child passenger safety program, and it blossomed from there.
My work as a local area network coordinator led to a full-time position as an LEL for the Tennessee Cumberland region. I took over in 2006, when state traffic fatalities were at an all-time high, at approximately 1,300 per year. Grant money was tight, and law enforcement’s perception of traffic safety was poor. We had to “sell” the need for better enforcement, especially to sheriffs, who are overtasked already.
How did you persuade hesitant agencies?
We had to be creative. I identified which of the 28 counties in my region were experiencing high fatalities and visited law enforcement agencies in each one to determine their strengths. We were then able to incorporate some of their weaknesses with their strengths. For example, if a sheriff’s office was strong in DUI or criminal interdiction but weak in seatbelt enforcement, we would encourage them to use seatbelts as another tool—not a task—to bolster their DUI or criminal interdiction enforcement. This approach took off, and we began to have 100 percent reporting. In my eight-year tenure, traffic fatalities decreased 33 percent.
As sheriff, you have made traffic safety a top priority. What initiatives have you taken so far?
Grundy County used to have about 10 traffic fatalities a year—an extremely high number for a rural county with just 14 miles of interstate. About a month into office, I called in my deputies, handed them citation books, and told them we were going to become more proactive in traffic safety. Some long-time officers had to be shown how to write a ticket! We also adopted a data-driven approach to crime and safety, basically using a white board to pinpoint where crime and traffic crashes were occurring. By focusing on these areas, we went from 10 to zero fatalities in 2015.
Additionally, we have increased seat belt education and enforcement. We follow an agency seat belt policy, both to protect our deputies and staff and to set a good example for the public. In 2014, the sheriff’s office wrote just 20 citations, but last year, we wrote 700. Safety restraint compliance rose to 73 percent in 2015 and, according to a survey done this past June, it has remained steady.
Training is vital to traffic and DUI enforcement because officers and deputies need to know the signs and symptoms of impairment. I’m a drug recognition instructor and brought tools associated with that program, ARIDE (Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement), and SFST (Standardized Field Sobriety Testing) from my time as an LEL. Most of my deputies have completed ARIDE classes. As a result, our impaired driving arrests increased 400 percent in 2015.
Please describe your partnerships with other public safety agencies.
We have a great rapport with the Monteagle and Tracy City police departments. Tracy City Police Chief Charlie Wilder has taken an active role in traffic safety, and our agencies work in unison during Click It or Ticket and impaired driving mobilizations. I also have a good relationship with Colonel Tracy Trott and his staff from the Second District of the Tennessee Highway Patrol. We partner up when they do checkpoints in our area. We also work with state law enforcement agencies in Georgia and Alabama during Hands Across the Border, an annual DUI enforcement campaign that takes place over Labor Day weekend.
As an LEL, I encouraged the three E’s: education, enforcement, and engineering. When I became sheriff, I added “engagement,” meaning let’s engage firefighters, EMS, social media and the public to ensure everyone knows what we are doing and when.
How have county residents responded to increased enforcement?
Any time ideologies and practices change, you are going to get a little negative feedback. There wasn’t a really big outcry, but people didn’t know how to handle being written a citation by a sheriff’s deputy. If it’s a police department, it’s a little more accepted. I had to let the public know that criminals must get from point A to point B, and they do it by driving. We were able to decrease the crime rate thanks, in large part, to traffic enforcement. When you go from writing 20 to 700 citations, you are going to reap benefits.
Finally, what advice would you offer agency leaders who want to boost their traffic safety programs?
Agencies across this nation need to know what their resources are—whether it is their local LEL or state coordinator, the National Sheriffs’ Association or state sheriff’s association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, or the state highway safety office. They need to engage those organizations by presenting their ideas and requesting help when needed.
Janet K. Hawkins is a freelance writer and former Editor-in-Chief of Sheriff magazine.