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Colorado’s star-CSP program stacks up well against those in other states

Author: Kaitlin Durbin - April 2, 2018 - Updated: April 2, 2018

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(Photo courtesy of Colorado State Patrol/Facebook)

COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado State Patrol’s delayed response to dozens of complaints about the same dangerous driver across two days last November stands in stark contrast to the premise behind its *CSP or *277 program, meant to stop DUI and aggressive drivers “as a matter of eminent public safety concern.”

The phone line, started in 1998, connects drivers on state highways directly with the agency patrolling them – rather than routing through county dispatch – in an effort to reduce response times and capture “real time” alerts about dangerous driving behavior. That can include improper lane changes, following too closely, weaving, passing on the shoulder, and speeding, the patrol’s website says, adding: “Your call is free and may save a life – or many lives!”

But expectation fell far short of reality on Nov. 20 and 21 when drivers did just that, reporting 21-year-old Robert Ours in his gray Audi 29 times to various agencies for rocketing sharply between lanes, using the shoulder to pass, cutting drivers off and nearly crashing into them. (The agency does not track exact figures for *CSP usage, but dispatch recordings show patrol was notified about Ours at least 14 times. The remaining calls were split between the Colorado Springs Police Department and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.)

Ours hurtled across El Paso County unhindered until crashing head-on into another vehicle on Nov. 21, killing himself and Ellicott Middle School Principal Diane Garduno.

Records from the crash report, completed and released by the State Patrol in mid-March, show that while the agency was tracking complaints about Ours, troopers weren’t actively looking for him until 9:31 a.m. on the second day, less than two hours before the fatal crash.

Surprisingly, the slow response came from the state with arguably the most robust anti-aggressive driving program in the nation, a Gazette analysis found.

The newspaper contacted 28 other state patrol, highway patrol or state police agencies that operate star-programs independent of their 911 lines. Nineteen responded, together suggesting that Colorado’s program is the most comprehensive and proactive.

All the responding states air active complaints about potentially dangerous drivers to nearby road officers. Colorado takes it a step further by actually tracking the worst offenders.

Up until six months ago, when the practice was placed on hold, three complaints about the same license plate number would trigger a letter to the vehicle’s registered owner describing the “dangerous acts” alleged in an effort to “modify the operator’s driving behavior before a crash occurs and/or before a trooper witnesses this type of driving and issues a citation.”

Additional complaints could prompt a trooper to visit the owner at home, CSP spokesman Rob Madden said. The agency is considering whether the practice is “the best use of patrol resources,” Madden said. In the future, troopers may instead use data from the up to 87,000 calls received each year to set up targeted enforcement efforts in problematic areas, he said.

“It’s a good system,” Madden said. “What it comes down to is every individual life is important, and if this system saves one life it’s worthwhile.”

While Colorado’s system was geared more toward prevention, policies in other states which trigger an active search for dangerous drivers may have prevented November’s tragedy.

For Oklahoma Highway Patrol, complaints about people “driving stupid” and “cutting me off” come in “a thousand a day,” Maj. Shawn Lockwood said. But when multiple calls about the same vehicle come in, “that would escalate it and we would send a unit to check on it,” he said.

South Carolina and Rhode Island troopers also initiate active searches for suspected DUI drivers, especially when the complainant is following the vehicle and providing location updates, agency spokesmen said.

While no civilian driver was tailing Ours – they told dispatcher he was driving too fast to do so – their dozens of calls traced his movements across the county.

Other states are moving away from the star-programs, choosing instead to filter calls through 911, which they said is more reliable.

Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Kansas no longer advertise their programs, though the lines remain operational. Maine and Rhode Island have closed their star call lines.

Colorado State Patrol, however, remains committed to the mission, and encourages the state’s local agencies to do so, as well.

Kaitlin Durbin

Kaitlin Durbin