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Five Portage County police departments were among 46 law enforcement agencies recently honored by AAA for improving and encouraging traffic safety activities in their communities.
The Brady Lake, Hiram, Kent, Mantua and Windham police departments received the awards during the recent 2012 Northeastern Ohio Community Traffic Safety Awards luncheon and ceremony in Independence.
"There are police departments out there every day doing work," said Lori Cook, safety advisor for AAA East Central in northeast Ohio. "Sometimes we take for granted that we don't see evidence of that ... The everyday things aren't just every day things. They really have a cumulative effect toward the safety of the citizens in that particular city or town."
AAA distributes five levels of awards: Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze and Commendation. The Hiram Police Department was recognized with the Platinum Award for implementing several programs to encourage traffic safety, including the "Click It or Ticket" seat belt enforcement program. Officers set up mock car crashes in front of the police station and posted yard signs and banners through the village to remind villagers of the importance of seat belt safety.
Police in the village also worked with the Hiram Fire Department to hand out vouchers for free ice cream at McDonalds for anyone who was wearing a seat belt, and literature on the safety factors of wearing a seat belt for those who weren't buckled up.
Hiram Police Chief Ed Samec said a traffic study showed that Hiram drivers are 92.6 percent seat belt complaint, which is above the national average. Some of the biggest traffic safety problems Hiram faces are excessive speeding and jaywalking by pedestrians.
"(Crosswalks) are put in certain areas for safety reasons and that's what they need to be used for," Samec said. "When pedestrians jaywalk, that's a hazard. We're working now to combat that problem."
Kent police received a Bronze Award for their involvement in initiatives such as Click it or Ticket and the "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" drunken driving enforcement campaign, according to Lt. Jim Prusha, who put the department in for the award.
Kent officers also participated in drunken driving checkpoints in partnership with the Ohio Highway Patrol, he said, and officers do presentations for third-grade classes on the importance of wearing seatbelts.
Mantua police received the Commendation Award, given to departments that deliver basic traffic safety programs like neighborhood watches, bike patrols and Safety Town.
"We work hard on the enforcement of DUI laws, and we're moving toward drug awareness and enforcement," said Mantua Police Chief Harry Buchert.
Brady Lake Police Chief Dave Kinney said his department has received a Commendation Award every year since 2008. He said he has seen an increase this year in the number of drivers paying attention to the road, and not other distractions.
"We dedicate a lot of time to traffic enforcement, and with education, people are paying a lot more attention" to the road and safe driving, he said.
Windham Police Chief Gene Fixler, who accepted the award on behalf of his agency, said the men and women under his command "continually strive to ensure that the roadways and walkways are kept safe through our regular patrols and our speed and equipment enforcement programs."
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