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

The Use of Uniformed Police Officers - V. Policies

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

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

Number of Policies

(Federal Register question #3; AASHTO question #2)

Question: Does your agency have a policy to provide uniformed police officers to increase safety and operation on Federal-aid highway constructions projects?

More than half of 61 respondents said that their agencies have policies regarding the use of uniformed police officers in highway construction work zones.

Overview of the Policies

(Federal Register question #4)

Question: If you responded yes to question # 3, please explain the policy and provide a copy. Who developed the policy? What has been the effect of the policy on the following? Crashes, deaths, injuries, operations and public relations?

Thirteen States submitted copies of their policies. The policies generally provide for hiring of off-duty police officers to work in highway construction work zones. Most frequently the hireback program is funded by the state highway agency to the law enforcement agency. 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.

Arrangements vary widely, however. In some cases there is an unwritten policy of interagency cooperation for the law enforcement agency to provide on-duty uniformed officers as needed. Some highway agencies work with local police agencies in addition to the State Police.

Parties Developing Policies

According to survey data, most often the policies were developed either by the State DOT or jointly by the State law enforcement agency and the State DOT. Thirty responses to questions asking who developed the policies were as analyzed.

Policy Development Percent of Total Respondents

State DOT

57

Law Enforcement Agency and State DOT

23

Law Enforcement Agency

10

Law Enforcement Agency and Other

10

"Other organizations" included the State Governor's Office of Employee Relations, the Police Benevolent Association, and construction personnel.

Explanation of Policies

Decision-Making Procedures - Procedures for Determining Whether a Project Will Have Uniformed Police Officer Coverage (Federal Register question #12; AASHTO question #10)

Question: How is the number of uniformed police officers determined and deployed in Federal-aid construction projects?

Open-ended responses to survey questions about how officers are deployed in Federal-aid highway projects revealed that agencies take widely varying approaches to determining whether a particular construction project will have police coverage, and the level of coverage that will be required 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. In other cases, assignment determinations are made solely by the State DOT, or, less frequently, by the law enforcement agency alone, or the construction contractor's job site supervisor. Several respondents indicated that factors affecting manpower allocation include project location, volume and speed of traffic, time of day, and whether there are complaints or emerging problem areas such as crashes, injuries, or fatalities at the site.

Other respondents said that agency policy calls for a certain number of police 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 (Federal Register question #16; AASHTO question #14)

Question: In addition to being in uniform, do police officers on Federal-aid construction projects wear any protective or high-visibility clothing?

When asked whether there were circumstances where uniformed police officers always are used, more than two-thirds of 57 respondents answered in the affirmative. Twenty-six percent said "No", 2 percent replied "Don't know" and 5 percent of responses were difficult to classify.

The 38 respondents replying "Yes" most often cited night operations, lane closures, and high-volume/high-speed traffic as the conditions that "always required use of officers." Other conditions noted included:

Among the respondents replying "No," comments included "The provision of UPO [uniformed police officer] is never routine. There first must be a perceived need for a UPO and it must be placed into the proposal before letting. Another agency wrote, "Uniformed officers are used as they can be fielded and work construction zones all times of the day and/or evening." Another said, "Traffic enforcement is typically provided for on an as required basis."

Designated Decision-Makers (Federal Register question #11; AASHTO question #9)

Question: Who determines the number of uniformed police officers to be used in Federal-aid highway construction projects?

In response to this question, 42 percent of 63 respondents indicated that highway agencies have the decision-making power, while another 41 percent said it is a joint effort. Thirteen percent said law enforcement agencies make the manpower allocation decisions.

Where deciding the number of officers is a joint effort, seventy-three percent of applicable respondents specified it was a joint effort between the State DOT and law enforcement agency.

Inclusion of Uniformed Police Officers in Project Planning Process (Federal Register question #20; AASHTO question #18)

Question: Are uniformed police officers included during the planning process of a construction project?

To this question, 40 percent of 60 respondents said "No," thirty-three percent replied "sometimes," and 27 percent said "yes".

Personnel Procedures: Use of On-Duty and/or Off-Duty Officers (Federal Register question #10; AASHTO question #8)

Question: Are only off-duty police officers used on Federal-aid highway construction projects or can on-duty police officers be used as well?

Policies regarding use of off-duty or on-duty police officers in Federal-aid highway construction work zones vary widely. Of 57 agencies responding:

Response Percent of Total

Only off-duty officers are used on Federal-aid highway construction projects

39

On-duty officers are used as well as off-duty officers, but most of these commented that on-duty officers are used only occasionally--during emergencies or when other unexpected circumstances arise

49

Use on-duty police officers exclusively

12

Use of Vehicles and Officer Positioning (Federal Register question #9, AASHTO question #7)

Question: Do uniformed police officers use marked police vehicles along/on highway construction projects? If yes, are the officers required to be out of the vehicles and visible to traffic?

A large majority of agencies use marked police vehicles in construction zones. Of 48 respondents, 92 percent said they use marked vehicles. Only 4 percent indicated the use of unmarked vehicles, and the remaining 4 percent said they mostly use marked vehicles but occasionally circumstances require the use of unmarked vehicles.

Most agencies (42 of 47 respondents) do not require the officer to be outside the vehicle and visible to traffic. Several agencies commented that the visibility of the marked police vehicle provides the principal deterrent to minimize speeding in work zones. A few respondents stated that safety is a concern and that the officer is safer inside the vehicle. Five respondents require officers to be outside of their vehicles and visible at least part of the time. This practice was most common in the New England States.

Officer Clothing and Gear (Federal Register question #14; AASHTO question #12)

Question: In addition to being in uniform, do police officers on Federal-aid construction projects wear any protective or high-visibility clothing?

Most agencies (two-thirds) do not require officers to wear any special protective clothing or high-visibility gear in construction work zones. Of 61 respondents, one-third said that their policy requires the officers to wear protective or high-visibility clothing. Where respondents indicated the type of gear required, almost all said the officers must wear reflective safety vests. A few agencies also require the use of bulletproof vests under the reflective gear.

Effects of Policies

Respondents provided little quantified data on the effects of policies that provide for use of uniformed police officers on highway construction projects. (That which was submitted is summarized below.) Generally, however, respondents that were willing to comment in the absence of quantified data believe that the policies have beneficial effects.

The results of the limited number of formal studies also indicate that the presence of uniformed police officers in work zones is effective in reducing motorist speeds. (See Section VIII of this report, "Studies on Use of Uniformed Police Officers in Work Zones.") The preponderance of general comments received indicated that contractors, law enforcement officials, and others perceive such programs to be effective (see Section IX of this report, "Summary of General Comments.").

A common sense observation, supported by the quantitative data that is available and by the general comments received, would be that States issuing a large number of traffic citations as a result of this program would be likely to experience a related improvement in motorist behavior. States reported issuing an average of nearly 6,000 citations last year on Federal-aid highway work zones as a result of their policies, and one State reported issuing more than 50,000 citations last year (See "Number of Citations," below).

Survey Questions on Effects of Policies: The Federal Register survey asked three questions on policy effects, as follows.

Federal Register Question #13: Do you believe that the use of uniformed police officers on/along Federal-aid highway construction projects improves the safety and operations in work zones?

AASHTO worded its question #11 virtually the same. A resounding 92 percent of the 65 respondents to this question answered "yes".

Federal Register Question #5: Since implementation of the policy, what has been the effect on injuries and fatalities on Federal-aid highway construction projects?

In response to the open-ended question, eighty-one percent of 26 respondents wrote that the policy has had positive effects. Fifteen percent indicated they had no data, and 4 percent reported a negligible effect.

Federal Register Question, #4: What has been the effect of the policy on the following: crashes, deaths, injuries, operations, public relations?

In response to this open-ended question, most respondents indicated that their agencies had experienced positive results, reducing crashes, injuries, and fatalities, and improving operations and public relations. The AASHTO question # 3 (b) was worded the same, except it was multiple choice, providing response options of "Reduction," "No Change," and "No Data in This Area." Most respondents to the multiple choice question chose "no data in this area." More detailed results to these questions are presented below.

Effects on Crashes: Sixty-three percent of 27 respondents indicated they had no data on the effects of policies on crashes. Thirty-three percent said crashes had been reduced, and 4 percent responded that there had been no change.

Effects on Fatalities: Of 28 respondents, 64 percent reported no data; 25 percent said fatalities had been reduced, and 11 percent reported no change.

Effects on Injuries: Sixty-six percent of 27 respondents said they had no data on the effects of policies on injuries. Thirty percent said injuries had been reduced, and 4 percent responded that there had been no change.

Effects on Operations: Fifty-three percent of 34 respondents said that the police had improved operations. Forty-one percent replied that they had no data; 3 percent reported negative effects; and 3 percent reported other effects.

Effects on Public Relations: Thirty-one respondents replied to this question, of which 41 percent said public relations had improved; fifty-three percent said they had no data; 3 percent said there had been negative effects; and 3 percent indicated no change.

Number of Citations: (Federal Register question #6, AASHTO question #4)

Question: How many citations have been issued on Federal-aid highway construction projects?

Seventeen respondents provided numerical responses to a question regarding the number of citations issued on Federal-aid highway construction projects in the last year.

 

Range

Average

Median

Citations Issued on Federal-aid highway construction projects

15 - 53,350

5,919

26, 682

One State reported, "The State Patrol has been providing enforcement on [State highway agency] projects for ten years. The first few years saw a lot of citations. Since then we have learned the presence of the trooper is more important ...."

Effects on Contractor Liability (Federal Register question #15; AASHTO question #13)

Question: Do you believe that the use of uniformed police officers reduces the liability of the highway construction contractor?

Responses to this question varied widely. Thirty-four percent of respondents said "yes," 34 percent replied "no," and 22 percent said they didn't know or were not sure. Eight percent said "maybe," and 3 percent had other (difficult to classify) responses. The sample comments below show the range of opinion on this matter.

Sample Comments

[Law enforcement association]: "Without question, the use of trained, professional police officers rather than flag persons reduces the potential liability of the contractor. Clearly the use of police officers tends to show that the contractor is legitimately concerned about the safety of both his/her work force and the general public."

[State highway agency]: "Yes, from the point of view that there is an official readily available to witness occurrences, make formal reports, and issue citations. Some types of incidents go unreported for a few days and the details become clouded if an officer is not present."

[State highway industry association]: "Yes. When something bad, e.g., a traffic accident, happens in a highway project work zone, the contractor will be one of the parties sued by the injured plaintiff, even though everything the contractor did--from the location and placement of the traffic pattern to the conduct of construction operations--is regulated by [the State highway agency]. The construction community believes that eliminating or reducing work zone crashes is the most effective means of reducing the contractor's exposure to liability."

[State law enforcement agency]: "Having uniformed personnel on scene does not reduce the liability of the highway construction contractor. However, it does have the potential to extend liability to the department providing the officers."

[State highway agency]: "Not necessarily. The contractor is still responsible for the job site. I think that by having a uniformed police officer on the job reduces the chance of anything happening, which reduces the number of occurrences, but not the liability. The State is also liable since it is occurring on State right-of-way."

[State highway agency]: "No, we don't. We believe it allows the contractor an opportunity to conduct his construction activities with a sense of security that the speed limit posted in the work zone will be adhered to."

Effects on Other Law Enforcement Activities (Federal Register question #17, AASHTO question #15)

Question: Are other law enforcement activities effective due to the use of uniformed police officers on Federal-aid highway construction projects?

This question was worded ambiguously. Nearly half of the respondents (29 of 62 responses) gave a "not sure/don't know/ or other" response. While the quantitative breakdown of the "yes" and "no" responses is not particularly useful given the ambiguity of the question, the substantive comments provided by the respondents offer useful information.

Of the respondents replying "yes" to this question, most indicated that the policy provides for additional law enforcement personnel on duty at any given time, which does have a beneficial effect on other law enforcement activities. Specifically, some cited that the officers assigned to work zone patrol have aided in the apprehension of crime suspects. Others stated that the presence of the officers at the work zones has a beneficial effect in reducing aggressive driving and speeding throughout the area, beyond the work zone.

Five "no" respondents pointed out that the use of off-duty officers means the work zone patrol policy does not detract from other law enforcement activities. On-duty manpower allocations are not affected.

Quantified Effects of Data Submitted: Presented below is all of the quantified data relating to the effects of uniformed police officers in highway construction work zones submitted in response to the Federal Register notice. In general, the data is inconclusive. See also Section VIII of this report, "Studies on Use of Uniformed Police Officers in Work Zones."

Illinois

"Having police in the work zone may have been a contributing factor to the changes represented above. However, there are many other variables involved. During this period of time, Illinois Department of Transporation was also working very hard to reduce crashes through several changes in work zone safety. Also, there is a great deal of variability in the recording of accidents and in entering them into a computer system. Because of these noted inconsistencies, it is difficult to state how much the reduction in crashes was a direct result of having hireback police in work zones. The contractors, however, feel very strongly that this is the best safety tool available for them."


Page last modified on October 15, 2014.
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