With the Sherriff's office, Granite Falls and Upper Sioux Police Departments, plus the occasional Minnesota State Trooper, the local area is already a haven for law enforcement. But motorists would do well to drive extra attentively during the month of June, as patrol units will be paying extra close attention to the area.
The driving force behind the ramped up patrolling is largely the result of a highly concentrated spree of automobile fatalities in the region over the past six month that, according to Lieutenant Bruce Erickson of the Marshall State Patrol Office, is unlike anything he's seen.
"I don't know how to explain it," said Erickson. "I've been around a long time and in the last few months as these crashes have occurred it just seemed to be too concentrated in one area. So I created pin map and it confirmed what I knew from being exposed to every day patrols... I'm not aware of a concentration of fatalities like this at any point in the past."
Erickson, who has been an officer for 23 years, three of those as lieutenant, said that there was no consistently recognizable cause of the accidents, which ranged from driver speed, intoxication and distraction to commercial vehicle and weather related issues. Five of the seven fatal accidents in southwestern Minnesota, however, did suggest a correlation by all occurring along or just off of Highway 212 and Highway 59 on a roughly 36 mile stretch between Granite Falls and Appleton.
After considering the issue, Erickson said that the Marshall State Patrol office elected to institute an enhanced enforcement campaign as well as educate local institutions about the issue.
"We just want to make sure to remind people to pay attention when they drive, and not to drink, nor text while driving. [The latter] is legal, but be mindful that it is a distraction and your primary focus should be on driving.
The peak of the enforcement campaign will occur during the week of June 17 when patrolling will be supplemented by a statewide Department of Public Safety (DPS) speed enforcement wave. According to Erickson, DPS has set aside funds to pay for overtime. As such, the usual suspects will be out in full force alongside troopers from the Montevideo, Redwood Falls and Marshall areas, all making sure that traffic laws are abided by.
That this also happens to be the week of Western Fest was something not lost on Erickson, although he said the timing was purely coincidental. "We're not picking on Western Fest, it just happened to be the week that DPS designated overtime funds to," he said.
Specifically, Erickson said the extra enforcement would patrol Highway 212 from Montevideo to Renville, Highway 23 from just north of Cottonwood to Clara City, Highway 67 to Clarkfield and Highway 59 at Montevideo up to Highway 40 north of Watson.
Page 2 of 2 - Erickson emphasized that the effort had nothing to with citations and everything to do with people.
"We want people to adhere to the traffic laws, to pay attention to their driving and we want them to be safe," he said. "It's not about tickets, it's about saving and reducing fatalities that appear to be happening in this area."