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FHWA Home / Safety / The Use of Uniformed Police Officers - Table of Contents

The Use of Uniformed Police Officers - I. Executive Summary

Report of Findings [FHWA Docket No. FHWA-1999-5387]

I. Executive Summary

This report of findings documents the opinions and understandings of study participants regarding the extent and effectiveness of uniformed police officers (UPO) on Federal-aid highway construction projects. Survey data indicates the majority of states use uniformed police officers in at least some work zones where there are particular traffic safety concerns. Specific policies and procedures vary widely among the states, although "hireback" programs, where the State highway agency provides funding to pay off-duty State Police Officers, are most common. Uniformed police officers most often are used in work zones with high speed, high traffic volume, and where there are lane closures or nighttime operations unprotected by concrete barrier. A small number of agencies utilize police officers on all highway work zones. The major study participants (State highway agencies, State law enforcement agencies, highway industry associations, law enforcement organizations, contractors and suppliers) appear to be in agreement that the presence of uniformed officers on Federal-aid highway construction projects enhances public safety, although there is little quantified data to confirm these positive effects.

Key issues related to the use of police officers are identified, and policy recommendations are presented within this report.

Background

This report was prepared pursuant to Section 1213(c) of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which requires the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to submit a report to Congress on the results of a study concerning the use of uniformed police officers on Federal-aid highway construction projects. The Congressionally mandated report was required to include any legislative and administrative recommendations.

Methodology

Congress required that a study be performed surveying States, State transportation departments, and law enforcement organizations. The U.S. DOT's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) published a notice in the Federal Register inviting all interested parties to comment where applicable. A copy of the notice is included as Appendix A.

To this end, a sample questionnaire containing 20 questions was published in the Federal Register notice, which clearly stated that responding to the questionnaire was requested but not required to facilitate the evaluation of study results.

In addition to the responses FHWA received directly from the Federal Register notice, submittals were also received from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). In its survey, AASHTO omitted questions that did not pertain to State highway agencies and amended others to offer a multiple-choice selection. A list of AASHTO questions is included in Appendix B.

As noted below, FHWA received 39 questionnaire responses and 25 general comments directly in response to the Federal Register notice. An additional 31 usable responses were received through AASHTO.

  Questionnaire Responses General Comments Total
Federal Register 39 25 64
AASHTO 31    
Total 70 25 95

Although 70 questionnaire respondents addressed the sample study questions, not all respondents answered all questions, causing some variation in the number of responses for each question. Full documentation of the study results is available upon request from the FHWA. Appendix C provides a reference guide to the contents of this report.

Twenty-five of the responses received provided general supplemental comments but did not address specific questions. The FHWA also analyzed other documents submitted to the docket, including copies of agency policies and studies that have been conducted on the use of uniformed police officers in highway work zones. This report summarizes the results of that analysis as well.

Profile of Respondents (Total of 95)

Total Respondents:

All of the comments received from public agencies were from jurisdictions with populations greater than 100,000. Those same respondents reported involvement in an average of 272 highway projects in 1999.

Questionnaire Respondents: As previously noted, 70 questionnaire respondents actually addressed the study questions and of these responses, 46 were from State Transportation Agencies.

General Respondents: Of the 25 respondents who filed general comments, 40 percent were highway industry associations and 32 percent were highway contractors and suppliers. The remainder was comprised of State legislators, law enforcement organizations, law enforcement agencies, and individuals.

Policies on Use of Uniformed Police Officers On Federal-Aid Highway Construction Projects

Number of Policies: Roughly two-thirds of 61 respondents replied that their agencies maintain policies regarding the use of uniformed police officers in highway work zones.

Overview of Policies: The policies generally provide for hiring off-duty police officers to work in highway work zones, although only 7 of the responding States use on-duty police officers exclusively. Most frequently, funds to pay police officers assigned to work zones are allocated to the Law Enforcement Agency by the State Highway Agency as part of the project cost. These programs are often administered through an interagency agreement or memorandum of understanding between the State Highway Agency and the State Police or State Highway Patrol.

Parties Developing Policies: Most often the policies were developed either by the State DOT or jointly by the State law enforcement agency and the State DOT.

Decision-Making Procedures: Agencies maintain widely varying approaches to determining whether a particular construction project will have police coverage, and the level of coverage at each site. In some cases, the State DOT project engineer, the State Police, and/or the construction contractor work together to assess the requirements at the work site and determine the number of law enforcement personnel required. Other respondents indicated that agency policy requires a certain number of officers per project, or that manpower assignments be based on available funding, human resource availability, or contract request. Several law enforcement agencies responded that it is left to the discretion of the officer assigned to a project to request additional support where warranted.

Circumstances where uniformed police officers are most often used include night operations, lane closures, and high-volume/high-speed traffic. A small number of the respondents (city of Boston, Rhode Island and Arizona) use uniformed police officers on all construction projects.

When asked who determines the number of police officers to be deployed at a site, 42 percent of respondents (26 of 63) indicated that highway agencies maintain the decision-making power, while 41 percent relayed it as a joint effort. Seventy-three percent of the 26 responses indicating a joint effort specified it was the State DOT and a law enforcement agency as the involved parties. Thirteen percent of respondents said law enforcement agencies are responsible for manpower allocation decisions.

Personnel Procedures: Policies regarding use of off-duty or on-duty police officers in Federal-aid highway work zones vary widely. Of 57 agencies responding, 39 percent said only off-duty officers are used on Federal-aid highway construction projects. Almost 50 percent said both on-duty and off-duty officers are used, but most of these commented that on-duty officers are used only occasionally - during emergencies or when other unexpected circumstances arise. Only 12 percent of agencies use on-duty officers exclusively.

A majority of agencies (92 percent) use marked police vehicles in construction zones. Forty-two of 47 representative respondents do not require the officer to be outside the vehicle and visible to traffic. Most agencies (two-thirds) do not require officers to wear any special protective clothing or high-visibility gear in work zones, where the remaining respondents stated the officers must wear protective or high-visibility clothing. Where respondents indicated the type of gear required, almost all said the officers must wear reflective safety vests.

Effects of Policies: Respondents provided very little quantified data on the effects of policies that provide for use of uniformed police officers on highway construction projects. Generally, however, respondents that were willing to comment in the absence of hard data believe that the policies have beneficial effects.

The results of the limited number of academic research studies submitted to the Federal Register docket indicate that uniformed police officers effectively reduce speeds in work zones. The preponderance of general comments received indicates that such programs are considered to be effective by contractors, law enforcement officials, and others.

Training Programs

Only 24 percent of 63 respondents indicated that they currently have a program in place or under development to train uniformed police officers working in construction projects. A significant number (12 respondents, or 19 percent) listed other responses, and many of these indicated that officers are trained in traffic operations and traffic management as part of their basic training, although they have no specific training for traffic management in work zones.

Funding Sources

State highway construction funds are by far the most common source of funds for use of uniformed police officers on Federal-aid construction projects. Of 68 responses to this question, 72 percent indicated "highway construction funds."

General Comments (Total of 25)

Ten highway industry associations filed general comments, most of which were strongly supportive of the use of uniformed police officers on Federal-aid highway construction projects. The AASHTO submitted its policy resolution on "The Use of Law Enforcement in Work Zones," dated November 16, 1997, which declares, "State highway agencies should maintain the flexibility and eligibility to use Federal-aid highway funds to fund law enforcement personnel within work zones."

Eight firms engaged in highway construction contracting or supply also filed general comments. All were strongly in favor of the use of uniformed police officers in highway work zones. Some noted their frustration regarding a lack of sufficient resources for use of police officers. Of note also is that four State legislators filed comments in favor of the use of uniformed police officers on construction sites.

Issues Summary

Several issues emerged from review of the responses to the Federal Register, general comments received and documents submitted to the docket.

Circumstances Where Officers Are Required: Policies vary widely regarding the circumstances where officers are used. A few agencies use a uniformed police officer at all highway work zones. A number of agencies use officers where work zone safety is of particular concern, such as high-speed, high-traffic areas, lane closures, and nighttime operations. Other agencies had no overriding policies, and reported that they use the officers on request, or as funding or staffing becomes available. There is little consistency among respondents regarding the number of officers assigned to work zones.

Training, Procedures, And Supervision: While the study showed that 24 percent of the respondents had a training program for officers assigned to work zones, the majority does not. Title 23, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), section 630 subpart J states that Part VI of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) sets forth basic principles and prescribes standards for design, application, installation and maintenance of various types of traffic control devices for highway and street construction, maintenance operation, and utility work. Section 630 subpart J also discusses the supervision and training responsibilities of persons involved in the work zone. Section 6E HAND-SIGNALING CONTROL of Part 6 of the MUTCD addresses work zone procedures for flaggers. It is not clear whether or not police officers are always familiar with the procedures in the MUTCD. Officer supervision arrangements vary widely; sometimes the officer is supervised by the State DOT project engineer, sometimes by the contractor, and at other times by the law enforcement agency supervisor on duty. Again, uniformity is lacking among respondents.

Conflicting Missions: The primary mission for a uniformed officer assigned to a work zone is to keep traffic moving at a safe speed, following MUTCD work zone traffic control standards. This is different than the routine mission performed by law enforcement officers in work zones, which is to issue citations for traffic code infringements.

Funding And Personnel Availability: Some comments indicated there are situations where police officers are needed to assure project safety, but no funding is available. Other comments indicated that officers are not always available to staff work zones when and where needed.

Payment Of Officers: In some jurisdictions, officers receive straight pay for work zone assignments, even if they are working overtime hours while off-duty. In other jurisdictions, officers receive overtime pay. The pay rates for uniformed police officers have been controversial in some localities.

Example Practices

In analyzing the docket submissions, the FHWA noted a number of policy and practice examples that had been successfully adopted by some States, including:

Recommendations

  1. The FHWA recommends that agencies using Federal-aid highway funds to assign uniformed police officers to highway work zones coordinate with state law enforcement agencies to develop written policies and guidelines addressing the following:

    • situations where uniformed police officers are recommended;
    • the work zone traffic control planning process;
    • officer pay, work procedures, supervision, etc.

  2. Since federal regulations require the use of MUTCD signing and flagging procedures at Federal-aid highway work zones, FHWA recommends that police officers assigned to federally funded highway work zones receive training in MUTCD requirements.

  3. The FHWA encourages agencies to gather data on traffic safety incidents at federally funded highway work zones to better assess the effectiveness of work zone traffic control techniques. Few agencies track crashes, fatalities, and injuries in work zones separately and, those that do so, generally do not record the conditions at the site at the time of the crash, including whether an officer was present.

  4. FHWA recommends that agencies consider using new traffic control technologies, such as automated enforcement and intrusion alarms, as well as uniformed police officers, to improve traffic safety at highway work zones.

FUTURE RESEARCH NEEDS

Future research needed:

  1. Absent quantified data such as crash or work zone statistics and analysis, indicate a need for a well-designed evaluation to determine the effectiveness of police officers in work zones. In addition to test sites where police officers are used, this evaluation should include comparable control sites where police officers are not used. A formal experimental plan should be developed that specifies the number of sites to be evaluated, the duration of the evaluation period, the statistical techniques to the used, and the accidents to types to consider. Traffic volumes on the test and control sites should be documented both before and after police officers are used.

Page last modified on October 15, 2014.
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