The Columbus Police Department's efforts with the recent Click It or Ticket campaign proved successful, according to law enforcement officials.
The annual national campaign, which aims to raise awareness of seat belt usage around Thanksgiving when many people were traveling, ran from Nov. 21-25. During that time, the Columbus Police Department made a total of nine arrests, issued 15 citations and 31 warnings, according to a press release from Officer Terry Heesacker.
Charges issued included drug violations, driving under the influence of alcohol, driving with a suspended license and motor vehicle theft, of which two stolen vehicles were recovered during the investigation. Capt. Todd Thalken said the police department saw about the same amount of activity during this year's campaign as it did in 2017.
"It's a good reminder," Thalken said about the campaign. "Seat belts have proven themselves to be important."
Several area law enforcement organizations were awarded grants to fund overtime pay for officers to conduct additional patrol work. The Columbus Police Department was awarded a $3,500 grant from the Nebraska Highway Safety Office to fund overtime enforcement activity as part of the campaign.
Although the primary focus of the campaign was addressing seat belt safety, the additional officer presence during the campaign also resulted in non-seat belt-related citations and arrests.
Fred Zwonechek, director of the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, said the campaign has been in existence for more than 20 years.
“This is a nationwide effort that’s done, where all states across the country are doing this at the same time,” Zwonechek said. “What it does is raise awareness through the public information and education campaign that goes along with it, as well as the enforcement agencies letting people know that this is happening. So it provides a significant deterrent for people to do the right thing during this time.”
According to released information, a local survey conducted before the campaign revealed a seat belt usage rate of about 62 percent. A similar survey conducted after the campaign showed this rate increased to 70 percent.
Platte County Sheriff Ed Wemhoff said his office has previously participated in the campaign, but didn't this year because of limited staff. He said the campaign is a great opportunity to raise awareness to the public regarding the importance of wearing seat belts.
“I’m a supporter of the campaign, and when resources allow, we do participate,” Wemhoff said. “It’s a good campaign. It’s an opportunity for guys to go out and focus more on traffic safety.”
Zwonechek said there was a similar number of vehicle crashes and fatalities during this year's campaign as there was last year in Nebraska.
“Hopefully we’re changing some behaviors,” Zwonechek said. “We take advantage of every opportunity to make it a little bit for safer for people out there during this time.”
From Dec. 14 through Jan 1., law enforcement agencies across the country will be participating in another similar campaign -- "You Drink, You Drive, You Lose." This initiative focuses on educating people about the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs and narcotics.
Eric Schucht is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.