According to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO), there has been a 400% increase in hit and run vehicle accident cases in 2023 compared to the same period in 2022. DCSO says the increase in hit and runs is the largest spike they’ve seen this year among the crimes they track.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office serves the most populous county in Nebraska which includes the city of Omaha. DCSO’s traffic enforcement primarily focuses on the unincorporated areas just outside of Omaha’s city limits.
The DCSO says nearly half of the requests they have recently received from the general public are related to concerns about traffic enforcement. The number of these requests also saw an increase from last year.
Last week we sat down with DCSO Sgt. Jeremy Welsch to get answers on why they believe this is happening and what the Sheriff’s Office is doing to combat hit and run accidents.
Video: 400% increase in hit and run accidents recorded by Douglas County Sheriff's Office
When asked what he believes is the biggest factor in the increase, Sgt. Welsch said, “We know there is a direct correlation between traffic enforcement and accidents. A decrease in traffic enforcement, like we have seen recently at the sheriff's office, due to our minimally staffed traffic unit, will lead to an increase in the number of accidents that are reported.”
The DCSO Traffic Unit is authorized to have up to three deputies and a Sergeant assigned to the traffic unit. In 2016, the traffic unit’s staffing level was reduced to a third of that size and has not been fully staffed since. The traffic unit also lost its dedicated Sergeant position towards the end of 2017. That role now includes overseeing both the traffic unit in addition to the 10 school resource officers working for the department. As of May 22nd, 2023, there is only one deputy assigned to the traffic unit.
However, despite the staffing issues, DCSO has been able to solve 19 out of the 32 cases they’ve investigated so far this year, approximately 63% of these cases. They say they’re actively investigating four of these cases currently.
DCSO points to a lack of staffing and traffic enforcement as being the main contributing factors in this increase. We asked Sheriff Aaron Hanson what is being done to alleviate this issue. Hanson pointed out that in 2022, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners and the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) Lodge 2 were able to come to an agreement which raised salaries within DCSO. He says that this has helped with the staffing issue but still leaves the sheriff’s office with 7 vacant deputy positions.
Sheriff Hanson also stated that “the DCSO Executive Team is pursuing efficiencies and organizational restructuring in order to fill our 7 current deputy vacancies”. He says they are currently making efforts to hire both new recruits as well as lateral hires from other departments. Hanson says that lateral hires, while being more expensive, require less training to become “street ready”. He stated, “Current low lateral application numbers indicate that DCSO’s lateral transfer wage and benefits package may deserve a fresh look”.
Hanson says solving the overarching problem will be working in unison with FOP Lodge 2 to “identify innovative manpower solutions which will allow us to focus full time deputy efforts towards popular and effective positions, such as traffic, Detective Bureau, Warrants and Road Patrol”. He continued that, “vital to growing traffic efforts in DCSO will likely be taking a fresh eyes look at scheduling, days off, and shift hours worked to ensure that traffic and road patrol needs match the time of manpower deployment”.
Story written by NOSS Media, LLC.