Monday night, Georgia State Patrol Trooper First Class Chad LeCroy was killed in the line of duty while making a traffic safety stop in Atlanta. Trooper LeCroy was a dedicated and highly skilled traffic enforcement officer who formerly served as a member of GSP's Nighthawks, one of 24 HEAT Units for Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic funded through the Governor's Office of Highway Safety. He leaves behind a wife, two sons and countless family, friends and brothers and sisters in law enforcement. No words or action can assuage this grief for his family.
The annual Law Enforcement Officer Fatality Research Bulletin released on Tuesday reported the number of officers killed by gunfire nationwide has increased 18 percent, while the number of officers struck by vehicles increased 16 percent. The Bulletin referred to a "devastating surge" in the number of officer deaths nationwide by more than 40 percent from 2009 to 2010.
Tuesday in Dougherty County, police Lt. Cliff Rouse was laid to rest after being slain in the line of duty while responding to an armed robbery call at a convenience store. The suspect was caught hiding under a nearby mobile home after Lt. Rouse was shot twice. Lt. Rouse also leaves behind a wife and two children.
The brutal slayings of these two Georgia officers brings the number of peace officers killed in the line of duty in Georgia this year to 10. The official "Officer Down" website indicates six Georgia officers have died this year in shootings, two from gunfire during traffic stops, and two from vehicle crashes.
The question many outside of law enforcement ask is "Why do troopers, deputies and officers expose themselves to these risks associated with traffic safety stops?" After observing thousands of Georgia law enforcement officers like Trooper LeCroy and Lt. Rouse firsthand over the past seven and a half years, I have concluded this: Each of them knows when it comes to public safety no other duty has the potential to save more lives, prevent serious injury or make communities safer than strategic traffic safety enforcement. Without traffic safety enforcement, violators will cause more death and severe injury in Georgia than by any other means. Traffic law enforcement officers are dedicated to ensuring that the public follows our highway safety laws so that fewer Georgia families must be informed of tragic injuries and deaths involving loved ones in a crash.
Georgia's traffic enforcement dedication has paid off. Since 2003, the coordinated efforts of law enforcement and partners in engineering, education and emergency medical services have reduced crash deaths here from an average of 1,600 per year to fewer than 1,100 projected in 2010. Trooper LeCroy and Lt. Rouse are among the thousands of Georgia law enforcement officers who helped make that happen. Georgia's safety belt usage rate consistently is the highest in the Southeast and at around 90 percent ranks Georgia in the nation's top tier. Georgia's impaired driver deaths have fallen so significantly that it is now tied with Minnesota with the fourth best rate in the nation. And Georgia's teen crash deaths have fallen from close to 300 to close to 150 per year.
To place all this in context, Georgia experiences just over 500 homicides during an average year.
While every Georgian will mourn the way Trooper First Class Chad LeCroy and Lt. Cliff Rouse died in the line of duty, we should also celebrate the way they lived their lives in service to all Georgians. Their lives symbolize the dedication shown everyday by Georgia law enforcement for saving lives and preventing injury to the citizens of our great State of Georgia. For me, the greatest tribute we can pay to these law enforcement families is to promise to do that for which they committed their lives: Follow the traffic safety laws by not drinking and driving, buckle up every occupant, slowing down and not driving distracted. While driving safely is every driver's responsibility, Georgia law enforcement is dedicated to ensuring we do so by enforcing traffic safety laws.
Director of Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety