Douglas County, covering 844 square miles, is centrally located within Colorado, lying between the State's two largest cities, Denver and Colorado Springs. As the centerpiece of the Denver/Colorado Springs Development Corridor, the County runs from the southern border of the Denver metro area to the northern edge of the Colorado Springs metro area. This strategic location has resulted in a rapid population increase. The U.S. Census Bureau reports a 1990 population of roughly 60,391 persons. It is estimated that the current population is 155,860 persons, an approximately 143% increase. The 540,000 acre County has had the fastest growing population in Colorado for the last ten years and has had one of the fastest growing county populations in the nation. The estimated median household income in Douglas County for 1995 was more than $80,900. Approximately 80% of the resident workforce commutes to jobs in Denver or Colorado Springs. Castle Rock, the County seat, is located on Interstate 25, about 25 miles south of Denver. Miles of public roads within Douglas County are designated below by roadway type.
The Douglas County Sheriff's Office is responsible for general law enforcement activities throughout the County. Eighty-six percent (86%) of the total county population resides in unincorporated areas (up from 76% in 1997) and the Douglas County Sheriff's office is the primary law enforcement agency for these areas. As a result, the agency has steadily increased its involvement in traffic enforcement over the last ten years. Located in the newly built Robert Christensen Justice Center located at the north end of Castle Rock, the Sheriff's Office has expanded in recent years to keep up with the staggering growth of the County. As the county population has grown, the officer ratio has increased, rising from .75 (per 1,000 population) in 1993 to .80 in 1998.
Within the Sheriff's Office, there is a twelve person traffic unit headed by a sergeant. This designated traffic unit was created in 1989 in response to increasing public pressure. In 1994, a unique county ordinance was written to cover all major traffic issues. That ordinance allowed the agency to receive some funding for traffic law enforcement services that were not mandated. At this time, the Sheriff's Office also started to aggressively pursue federal funding through different grants. The department currently has the TWIST grant which targets seatbelt usage; the LEAF grant, a state-funded program which targets DUI offenders; and the CHILL grant, also a state-funded program that targets aggressive drivers. Through these grants and others, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office has been able to focus on finding creative and effective solutions to major traffic problems.
This increase in funding and revenue has allowed this LEA to successfully grow and modernize as the county population demands. Grant money is used primarily to purchase new equipment, including video cameras for each patrol car and a mobile command post, as well as lasers, radars and PBTs. Specifically, the CHILL grant, which is designed to combat aggressive driving on county roads, has been used to purchase a state-of-the-art unmarked patrol car.
The CHILL grant also funds a deputy and a traffic clerk, along with the new patrol car, which has allowed the traffic unit to focus on dangerous driving patterns. In conjunction with the awarding of this grant, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office wrote an aggressive driving ordinance, allowing law enforcement to specifically target any driver who commits two or more moving violations in a short period of time within close proximity to other vehicles. This grant, and subsequently established ordinance, resulted in one of the many special traffic programs developed in Douglas County.
Citation information were provided by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and were the source for the figures presented in this section. Staffing hours were not available.
The total yearly number of traffic citations issued versus the number of traffic violations are displayed in Figure 14 below for the years 1993 through 1997. There are times when one citation could have cited more than one violation. (Note: these numbers do not include several towns within the County.)
Figure 14: Douglas County Sheriff - Traffic Violations/Citations, 1993-1999
Both traffic citation and arrest totals have increased over the past ten years. In 1993, there were 5,098 traffic citations written, and 1,866 traffic-related arrests were made. In 1998, those numbers rose to 16,264 and 3,249, respectively.
The Douglas County Sheriff's Office provided research staff with a breakdown of traffic related citations written by violation, except for seatbelt and parking violations. The data span ten years and display the information by month. These data are represented in Figure 15.
Figure 15: Douglas County Sheriff's Office - All Traffic Citations
The steady increase in traffic enforcement corresponds with departmental growth resulting from residential population growth within the County. The County is currently experiencing a 12-14% yearly increase in population which is expected to double over the next 10-15 years. The minor fluctuations in enforcement that occur along this growth curve were investigated, and it was found that most are a result of either personnel and scheduling changes or weather factors.
Between the months of November and April, traffic enforcement is limited by snow and storm conditions. The traffic unit then counters this drop-off with strong enforcement throughout the warmer months of May, June and July. The large decrease in enforcement in early 1997, as well as the smaller decreases that occur every January, are a result of personnel changes. Vacancies throughout the patrol division due to promotions, reassignments, retirements, etc. are temporarily filled by traffic deputies until new hires complete training and can fill the vacancies. Patrol functions must be given priority over traffic enforcement and, therefore, a noticeable change in traffic enforcement is seen in the data at these times. However, all deputies in the patrol division on day or swing shifts have a traffic enforcement quota of one ticket per shift. Deputies in the traffic unit on those same shifts are expected to write at least one ticket per hour. (Traffic citation quotas are publicized openly.) Traffic deputies on night shifts focus on DUI enforcement. Figure 16 below depicts only DUI-related offenses, both alcohol (DUI) and other drugs (DUID). Except for a drop late in 1996, this chart also shows an upward trend.
Figure 16: Douglas County Sheriff's Office - DUI-DUID Citations, 1989-1999
Speed enforcement is a top priority with the Sheriff's Office and the numbers of citations issued closely mirror the total numbers of all citations issued (Figure17).
Figure 17: Douglas County Sheriff's Office - Speeding/Total Citations, 1989-1999
Figure 18 displays the numbers of safety belt citations written per month by the Sheriff's Office. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of citations written for safety belt violations.
Figure 18: Douglas County Sheriff's Office - Speeding/Total Citations, 1989-1999
The Douglas County Sheriff's Office began recording aggressive driving violations (defined as two or more moving violations within close proximity to other vehicles) in January 1999. Although it is too soon to see any trends, they provided the number of citations issued monthly during 1999 and through June of 2000. There were a total of 637 aggressive driving citations issued during 1999 and a total of 201 as of July 1, 2000.
The Douglas County, Colorado Sheriff's Office is one of the few law enforcement agencies we found that has been steadily increasing traffic enforcement efforts at highly significant levels. The number of officers and the level of traffic enforcement efforts have been funded by a rapidly increasing county population and resultant tax base. While it's not unique for communities to have an increased tax base, it is commendable that in Douglas County, the increased revenue has been shared with the Sheriff's Office. The increased traffic safety concerns of the public helped to fuel the continuing increased response by the Sheriff's Office. It was also apparent that there has been a steady command emphasis on traffic enforcement within the Sheriff's Office. This support and guidance have helped to increase resources dedicated to traffic enforcement.