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2009 Smooth Operator Campaign

Remarks at Maryland Kickoff News Conference

By Kevin P. Morison, NLEOMF Director of Communications, July 7, 2009

Good morning.

His name was Courtney Brooks — a loving family man, father of three, and a respected, 13-year veteran of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police Department, assigned to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Unit.

Just before midnight on December 31, 2007, as the city of Baltimore was preparing for its New Year's celebration, Corporal Brooks was placing traffic cones and flares on I-95 and I-395 to keep traffic out of downtown and ensure the safety of the thousands of people who were preparing to ring in the new year.

Shortly before midnight, a driver plowed through the temporary markers, struck Corporal Brooks and then fled the scene. Corporal Brooks was transported here, to Maryland Shock Trauma, where doctors and other medical personnel worked valiantly to save his life. However, the 40-year-old law enforcement professional succumbed to his injuries soon after midnight on New Year's Day.

Courtney Brooks had the unfortunate distinction of being the first law enforcement officer to die in the line of duty in 2008, not just in this region but in the entire United States. In May of this year, his name was engraved on Panel 42-East, Line 26 of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC.

Tragically, the death of Corporal Brooks was not an isolated incident. Rather it was part of a disturbing and deadly trend for law enforcement here in Maryland and throughout the country. If current trends continue, 2009 will be the 12th year in a row in which more of our nation's law enforcement officers die on our roadways than are killed by gunfire or any other single cause of death.

Last year, 133 officers died in the line of duty nationally. More than half of them — 53 percent in all — were killed in automobile or motorcycle crashes or, like Corporal Brooks, were fatally struck while outside their police vehicles. By comparison, fewer than 30 percent of the officers who died last year were killed by gunfire.

In the state of Maryland over the past decade, fully 52 percent of all officer fatalities were traffic-related.

Throughout the year, our roadways pose serious dangers for law enforcement officers. But the roads can be especially dangerous during the summer months. That's when more people are driving more miles and when more officers are out in force — in initiatives such as Smooth Operator &mdash to try and keep all of us safe.

Such was case just over two years ago, on June 16, 2007, when Corporal Scott Wheeler of the Howard County (MD) Police Department was taking part in a Smooth Operator speed enforcement operation on a stretch of Route 32 in Savage known for chronic speeding.

As Corporal Wheeler attempted to flag down a violator, he was struck by a Nissan Sentra traveling in excess of 70 miles per hour. Corporal Wheeler succumbed to his injuries two days later. That October, the stretch of Route 32 where he was struck was renamed in Corporal Wheeler's honor.

So this summer, as officers are out in full force cracking down on speeders and other aggressive drivers, it is so important for the rest of us — the law-abiding motorists — to do everything we can to help keep our peace officers safe.

That's why the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund launched our "Drive Safely" campaign a few years ago: to reduce the number of law enforcement officers who are injured or killed on our roadways. That's the straightforward, single-minded goal of the campaign.

To help meet that goal we launched the Drive Safely website. Among other things, the website presents 10 common-sense steps that motorists can take to help keep law enforcement officers — and themselves — safe on the road.

None of this rocket science, ladies and gentlemen. It's the simple things ... like slowing down and safely moving over one lane of traffic when you see a law enforcement officer or other emergency personnel stopped by the side of the road. Forty-six states now have so-called "move over" laws on their books. And while Maryland is one of the four states yet to implement a "move over" law, it is still a good practice for all motorists to follow.

It's the simple things ... like giving emergency vehicles plenty of room to pass when they come up behind you with lights and sirens activated — and then not following too closely once the vehicle has passed. You'd be amazed how many drivers seem to think a speeding emergency vehicle is there simply to run interference for them, so that they can shoot through traffic too. That behavior is illegal, and it is dangerous.

It's the simple things ... like never driving on the shoulder of a roadway, no matter how congested traffic may be and how frustrated you may feel about being stuck. Police and other emergency vehicles often use the shoulder to get to traffic crashes and other life-threatening emergencies as quickly as possible. It's extremely dangerous to them — and you — if you take up that lane.

And it's the simple things ... like driving only when well-rested and sober and reporting suspected drunk drivers as soon as you see them. The driver who killed Corporal Courtney Brooks on New Year's Eve in Baltimore was intoxicated. If only someone had reported her erratic driving sooner, Corporal Brooks's life may have been saved.

So our message to the motoring public is really quite simple, this summer and throughout the year: be conscious of, and extremely careful around, the law enforcement officers who are out there on the roadways, risking their own lives for the safety and protection of others.

Let these dedicated men and women do their jobs — and do them safely — so that all of us can make it home safely as well.

Thank you very much.