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Longoria, Brown recognized for lifesaving traffic plan

Two long-time buddies received a state award for helping to make the roads of Island County a safer place.

Under the state’s Target Zero program, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission recognized Island County Sheriff Mark Brown and Sgt. Jason Longoria of the Washington State Patrol for their unique partnership in traffic enforcement on Whidbey Island. The result of their teamwork was a steep decline in the number of traffic accidents with fatalities last year.

Brown and Longoria worked together in implementing a simple plan aimed at reducing the number of fatal car crashes. It called for a combination of “high visibility traffic enforcement,” less tolerance of speed violations and spreading the project’s message through the newspaper and community meetings.

“It’s a partnership unlike any in the state,” Longoria said.

Brown agreed. “I think it’s a model for others and I hope other sheriffs will follow.”

As part of the award, the two men were interviewed on videotape last week for a short film that will play during the award ceremony April 16.

Brown and Longoria inherited the traffic concern when they took their jobs last year. There was a 750 percent increase in fatality collisions in the county from 2004 to 2006. In 2004, there were two fatal crashes. In 2006, the sad accounting skyrocketed to 15. In most of the accidents, speed was a contributing factor.

Last year, the number of fatal traffic accidents was back down to six.

For Brown and Longoria, the first step in the plan was to educate the community and warn drivers that officers were going to be more aggressive in traffic enforcement. Then they encouraged deputies and troopers to do exactly that.

“I told them, ‘Lets just start by stopping more cars,’” Longoria said.

Brown appointed Lane Campbell as the department’s full-time traffic enforcement deputy. It became a two-man department this year when Deputy Rick Norrie joined in.

The two departments worked together on traffic emphasis patrols, during which time an area is saturated with police looking for traffic problems. The last one was done in the Oak Harbor area on St. Patrick’s Day as a joint project of the sheriff’s office, the state patrol, Oak Harbor police and the Coupeville marshal’s office. It resulted in several arrests for DUI, drugs and driving while license suspended.

The statistics tell the story. Along with a drop in accidents, deputies alone made an 80 percent increase in traffic stops last year, as compared to the previous year, resulting in 44 percent more tickets. Officers are also catching more impaired drivers. From the beginning of the year to March 15, troopers made 51 DUI arrests, which is 20 percent higher than last year.

From the beginning of the year to March 23, deputies arrested 48 people for DUI, a 98 percent increase from last year.

It was a natural partnership for Brown and Longoria, who became friends when they were both state troopers working on Whidbey Island years ago. They share a zest for traffic enforcement, which they see as an extremely productive type of law enforcement that’s about more than just giving out speeding tickets. Not only does it keep the roads safer, they say, but good traffic enforcement makes communities safer.

Longoria pointed out that bad guys as diverse as Timothy McVeigh, the Green River Killer and Ted Bundy were ultimately caught because of traffic enforcement. The county courthouses are full of both felony and misdemeanor cases, from drugs to ID theft, resulting from traffic stops.

“High visibility traffic enforcement has a side effect in reducing crime in your community,” Longoria. “It’s the one area of law enforcement where you can be proactive instead of reactive.”

Drivers can expect more of the same in the future, especially with the Oak Harbor police joining in with an enforcement emphasis on the highway. The award the two lawmen received is part of the Target Zero program, which is based on the vision that even one traffic death is too many and that Washington can achieve zero traffic deaths and zero serious injuries by the year 2030.

It’s a lofty goal that some people consider with skepticism, but Brown and Longoria hope to make the target a reality as soon as possible. At least on Whidbey Island.

“We’re not resting on our laurels,” Brown said. “We’re going ahead with a proactive approach. I think six is too many.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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