OLIVIA — Renville County Sheriff’s Office deputies and police officers assisting them made 731 traffic stops in the past year while working overtime hours made possible by grant funds from the state’s Toward Zero Deaths campaign.

Renville County Sheriff Scott Hable defended the importance of the additional enforcement to the County Board of Commissioners at its meeting Oct. 19. The commissioners will be considering at their Oct. 26 meeting whether to approve Toward Zero Death grant funds of $31,915 for both added enforcement and education campaigns.

The commissioners approved the grant funding one year ago, but some members noted at the time that they prefer the educational efforts over the enforcement.

The sheriff told the commissioners that the grant funds are part of an agreement in which the department is responsible to conduct both enforcement and educational efforts.

He emphasized that the added hours of enforcement efforts on the roads are very important. It saves lives.

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“We know people are dying on our roads so we can’t give up,” he said.

The sheriff emphasized that most of the traffic stops are positive encounters and serve to help build rapport with the public and not animosity. The 731 traffic stops in the campaign resulted in 145 tickets being issued for infractions, while the officers issued 777 warnings to drivers. The stops resulted in 17 arrests for driving while impaired and for standing warrants.

Hable said the department and its officers are known for making positive contacts with the intent to encourage good driving behaviors rather than issue tickets.

“My philosophy is, in rural Minnesota, we have to continuously work to build that trust from the community. This is a valuable tool,” he told the commissioners.

The grant funds also make possible a variety of educational campaigns aimed at preventing driving while impaired and distracted driving, and on the importance of wearing seat belts.

He pointed out that when it comes to seat belts, Minnesota as a whole has a 94 percent compliance rate. Drivers in rural, southwestern Minnesota have an 84 percent compliance rate while Renville County has a 70 percent compliance rate.

The compliance rates are based on observations conducted by law officers at intersections in the county. Commissioner Randy Kramer noted that there are exemptions in the law allowing farmers not to wear seat belts at times, and that could explain the county’s low compliance rate.

“OK, (being) exempt doesn’t keep you from getting hurt or killed in a crash,” said Mary Erickson, who leads the educational programs for the Sheriff’s Office.

Educational efforts included the use of a ramp where individuals could experience the impact of a sudden stop while sliding at 5 to 7 miles an hour and wearing a seat belt. Other efforts included the use of goggles in which participants can experience the impairment associated with drinking and newsletters distributed as grocery bag stuffers.

Sheriff Hable told the commissioners that the overtime pay is a benefit for participating officers, but stated that the campaign is about education and enforcement, and not about the money. Virtually all of the money from fines for tickets goes to the courts and state, he pointed out.