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Sheriff's office honored for lowering crash rates

Tom Kommrow, right, with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, presented the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office with a radar unit - valued at about $3,000 - in recognition of lower motor vehicle crash rates in the county. From left are Deputy Scott Wherley, Chief Deputy Ernie Beitel and Sheriff Phil Hodapp. Photo by - Monte Draper, Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths recognized the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office this week for its efforts in lowering motor vehicle crash rates and fatalities in the county.

Minnesota has the lowest fatality rate in motor vehicle crashes since World War II, said Tom Kummrow of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Kummrow, representing TZD, made a presentation at the Beltrami County Board meeting Tuesday.

One of the TZD goals for the state is to have fewer than 350 traffic-related fatalities, and fewer than 850 serious injuries, by 2014.

A total of 368 people died in Minnesota traffic accidents in 2011. That's down from 655 in 2003, the year TZD was implemented in the state, and it's the first year since 1944 that fewer than 400 people died on Minnesota roads.

These reductions are due to both education and enforcement, Kummrow said, noting that wearing seat belts is one area where Minnesota shines, with its 94 percent seat belt usage, 2 percent better than the state as a whole.

"That's pretty respectable when you look at things across the nation," he said.

That's the good news.

The bad news: "What gets us at those rates is not rural Minnesota," Kummrow said. "What gets us at this rate is metro Minnesota. Northwest Minnesota has the lowest usage in the state."

But there's still some good news, in that northwestern Minnesota's 73.9 percent seat belt rate is up from 65.8 percent last year, he said.

"You're going in the right direction. A big piece of that is the enforcement that's going with the education. Hats off to Beltrami County for what they're doing."

In the past five years, 2,275 crashes have occurred in Beltrami County, an average of 455 a year. Last year, the county had 430 crashes, a lower rate than the five-year average.

As a reward for the good work the county has been doing, Kummrow presented Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp with a radar unit, a high-tech model that costs about $3,000.

"What these guys are doing in Beltrami County is unprecedented," Kummrow said. "Hats off to them. That doesn't come alone. They need the support from the top down. The commissioners have supported them. For that I thank you guys. Great job keeping fatalities down in Beltrami County and protecting your citizens."

Hodapp said he appreciates support for the sheriff's office from the commissioners, county employees and the public.

"I realize that sometimes our encounters with members of the public are not that pleasant for the person we're having a talk with on the side of the road," he said.

"Our goal is to encourage voluntary compliance. We see that here. We have guys who come back from a night on the road, and they can't find anybody to stop. That's a good thing. You keep the roads safe for families and your children when they're out driving. I want to recognize you folks for helping us do a better job keeping our county safe. Thanks a lot."

Red Lake disbursement

The board unanimously authorized disbursement of $500,000 to the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians to bring the Red Lake Family and Children Services program into compliance with IV-E foster care requirements through the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. The County Aid funds were appropriated by the state Legislature in 2009 for Beltrami County to distribute to the Red Lake Band.

The funds will help create a program structure, including policies and procedures, to comply with the Act.

"Things need to be accomplished, things such as developing and procuring a data collections system, developing codes and laws in connection with the federal requirement, hire a legal consultant - really, to assist the whole organizational capacity," Beltrami County Health and Human Services Director Mary Marchel told the board at Tuesday's meeting.

Marchel was accompanied by Paula Woods, director of Red Lake Family and Children Services.

"This is a rather large undertaking that you seem to have undertaken very well," Commissioner Joe Vene said.

"Kudos on your hard work and your patience," Commissioner Jack Frost said. "We will be there to offer support if needed. I applaud this effort."