NB approves driver awareness program

While proactive in the community, Police Department seeing increase in accidents, domestic assaults and thefts of gas

North Branch has agreed to give drivers of less serious traffic offenses an alternative to prosecution and conviction by offering a class that may keep driving records clean while generating revenue for the city.

It’s called the Chisago County Driver Awareness Program, which the City Council approved at its Aug. 12 meeting. North Branch Police Chief Dan Meyer explained the program.

Back in May, the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office implemented the driver awareness program, a citation diversion effort that allows drivers who are cited with certain non-serious speed, moving and equipment violations to voluntarily attend a two-hour traffic safety course rather than face prosecution and conviction for the traffic offense. The class would be instructed by area law enforcement in a classroom setting.

When a participant successfully completes the course, the driver’s traffic citation will be voided with no court arraignment or conviction on the driver’s driving record.

Drivers who qualify for the program must contact the sheriff’s office within 14 days to register for a driver awareness program course. Courses are offered twice a month and taught by the Sheriff’s Office. There is a $75 nonrefundable registration fee to participate in the Chisago County Driver Awareness Program.

As will be the case in North Branch, city police departments may take part in the program and offer a qualified driver a course. When the driver successfully completes the course, the city agency will receive $50 of the $75 registration free from the county. If a driver fails to register for a course within the 14 days, neglects to submit the $75 registration fee or doesn’t participate in his or her scheduled course, a citation will be filed with the court for prosecution.

In light of program eligibility, all petty misdemeanor moving violations are eligible except for speeding in a school or construction zone and any drug or alcohol-related offenses. All equipment violations are eligible, too, excluding misdemeanors. Drivers in violation of the no proof of insurance statute are not eligible.

“Traditional court proceedings for non-serious speed, moving and equipment violations can be taxing on local and county resources as it relates to court time and prosecution costs,” Meyer said of the advantages. “The driver awareness program can alleviate some of this burden and provide a cost-effective alternative to drivers cited for these types of offenses. It also provides another source of revenue the city can utilize to fund city and Police Department expenditures.”

One disadvantage, Meyer added: Some staff time is involved to verify that participants successfully complete the program.


Accidents, thefts of gas on the rise

According to Meyer, the Police Department has seen increases in motor vehicle crashes, disputes and domestic assaults, juvenile complaints, thefts of gas and gun permit background checks in comparison to last year at this time.

The chief of police presented these and other trends in his mid-year police activity report to the council.

During the first six months of 2013, he said, the department handled 4,364 incidents, activities and calls for service. And while it has seen increases in motorist and public assists, as well, the department has seen a decrease in animal and parking complaints.

“We also have done a better job tracking and documenting proactive activities such as area and business checks, community policing activities and events and predatory offender checks,” he explained.

In addition, Meyer was requested to provide information on how the department’s mutual aid contracts work with other law enforcement agencies.

At present, North Branch Police has such contracts in place with the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office, along with the Wyoming and Lakes Area police departments. If another agency needs assistance from North Branch officers, he added, the officers are requested to respond either directly or they are dispatched by Chisago County dispatchers.

“In turn, our officers can request assistance from other law enforcement agencies at their discretion,” Meyer continued. “Since Chisago County Sheriff deputies have countywide jurisdiction, deputies may frequently show up to assist or back our officers without the need to be specifically requested by our agency.”

Further, when North Branch officers are busy with an incident when another call comes in, the call will be stacked until a North Branch officer is free — unless it’s a priority call or a call that needs an immediate response, he said.

“In these cases, our officers will clear their current call and respond to the priority call if they are able,” Meyer noted. “If they are not, dispatch will assign the priority call to a sheriff’s deputy or … to an officer from another jurisdiction. In turn, our officers may be dispatched to handle a priority call out of our jurisdiction if needed.”

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