10 - Guilford County Sheriff's Department - North Carolina

SITE DESCRIPTION

Guilford County, North Carolina is positioned in the northern center of the State, not far from the Virginia border. The County had a population of 393,419 persons in 1999 (up from 344,503 in 1989) and the county seat, Greensboro had a population of 205,000, ranking them as the third largest county and the third largest city, respectively, in the State. Guilford County is the 22nd largest county in North Carolina (out of 100), with a 657.7 square mile area. Guilford County is part of the eleven-county Piedmont Triad Region with a population of more than 1.2 million stretching from Raleigh to Charlotte.

The County's central location along the Piedmont industrial crescent has made it a major distribution and transportation center in the Southeast. Employment is centered mostly on the textile, apparel and furniture industries, as well as some corporate industry. Federal Express is constructing a $300 million mid-Atlantic cargo hub adjacent to the Piedmont Triad International Airport. The hub will employ some 1,500 people and will operate upwards of 25 flights daily. This industry expansion is a product of an excellent transportation infrastructure located in the County, as well as surrounding areas. This expansion has resulted in a steady increase in household incomes, rising from $30,148 in 1989 to $51,000 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

There were 333,534 vehicle registrations and 298,732 licensed drivers recorded in the County in 1999. Miles of public roads within the County are designated below by roadway type.

Table 5: Guildford County Roads
State Maintained Roadway Type Miles
Primary Roads 257.23
Secondary Roads 1,450.7
Total Roads - Guilford County 1,707.93

LEA DESCRIPTION

The Guilford County Sheriff's Department is a full-service sheriff's department with almost 300 sworn officers. These officers are responsible for enforcing all the laws of the County. While traffic law enforcement is not necessarily a priority of the Department, traffic safety within the jurisdiction is a responsibility and, therefore, is one of their many duties. The Sheriff's Department generally does not investigate traffic crashes, although if a situation requires it, some investigations are conducted. Traffic incidents in rural areas of the County fall under the jurisdiction of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, and do not tend to involve the Sheriff's Department. Due to the County's increasing population, though, the State Patrol has had difficulty meeting the demands of the area. This has led to a more focused approach in recent years by the Sheriff's Department in the enforcement of traffic safety laws.

Approximately ten years ago, the Guilford County Sheriff's Crime Repression Team (CRT) was established. This unit was designed to handle a variety of special enforcement needs, primarily canine-aided investigation. At the time of its inception, the unit was assigned several radar units to be used as needed in high-volume problem areas throughout the County. The unit continued to pursue traffic enforcement needs as public pressure mounted on the issue. In 1995, the department split into three district units in order to make patrol and detective functions more responsive to the communities. This change again prompted the public to demand more traffic enforcement. Individual communities began raising funds for radar equipment in exchange for increased enforcement in certain areas. While traffic enforcement is still kept to a minimum, each district now has 5 or more radar units which allows officers to bring some traffic patrol presence into these communities.

The Department has slowly been increasing its inventory of equipment over the last few years. As mentioned above, equipment often is purchased with funds donated by local communities. The Sheriff also maintains a very successful working relationship with the Governor's administration due to the Department's work on the Governor's Crime Commission. This close relationship allows the Department access to state-level grants and funding. Each district has been able to install radar units in many cars, as well as some video cameras in some patrol vehicles. Recently, grant money was used to train officers in the use of "Stop Sticks"--small, spiked strips used to deflate the tires of a fleeing vehicle.

The only major legislative change within the last ten years, regarding traffic safety, was lowering the legal blood alcohol level in 1993 from .10 to .08 per se. The Sheriff's Department acknowledges that DWI enforcement is one of their main concerns within traffic safety, and some officers within the Department were particularly vocal in support of this law change.

TRAFFIC ENFORCEMENT TRENDS

The Guilford County Sheriff's Department supplied traffic citation data (1994-1999). The following figure depicts total traffic-related citations issued by the Guilford Sheriff's Department during those years. This includes all speeding citations, safety belt violations for both adults and children, citations for DWI offenses, operating a vehicle when the driver's license has been revoked, and operating a motor vehicle without a driver's license. As indicated in the previous section, enforcement of traffic laws has steadily increased, and this is supported by Figure 60. However, there is a decrease in the 1999 total.

Figure 60: Guilford Sheriff's Department - Total Traffic Citations, 1995-1999

Figure 60: Guilford Sheriff's Department - Total Traffic Citations, 1995-1999d

Figure 61 below shows totals for each type of citation by year. Our contact noted that while traffic safety laws are not always aggressively enforced, if a vehicle is stopped for one violation (e.g., speeding), then often other violations are written also (e.g., no operator's license and/or no seat belt). We were able to display all types of violations in one figure, because of the relatively uniform numbers of citations issued.

Figure 61: Guilford Sheriff's Department - Traffic Citations by Type, 1995-1999

Figure 61: Guilford Sheriff's Department - Traffic Citations by Type, 1995-1999d

More citations were issued for speeding than for any other offense, followed by citations for revoked driver licenses. Close to the same number of citations were issued for DWI offenses as for individuals operating a vehicle without a current driver's license. In 1995 and again in 1999, there were also similar numbers of citations issued for safety belt violations. The numbers of these violations dipped in 1996 and 1997, but increased in 1998 and 1999.

SUMMARY

In the past, traffic law enforcement had not been considered a high priority for the Guilford County Sheriff's Department. However, this function has grown because this LEA has responded to requests from the public to fulfill a need, which was not being adequately met due to population growth with the County. Public support has resulted in public funds being allocated for equipment purchases. The Guilford County Sheriff's Department is now playing an increasingly important role in enforcing traffic laws within the County, one which will likely continue.