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Eyes on the road

Fri, Apr 25th, 2014
Posted in All Features

State Trooper Troy Christianson parks his squad car in a location on Highway 52, observing drivers passing by Fountain, Minn. Photo by Jason Sethre

Imagine a job in which you show up everyday and never know what to expect. Anything could happen, and your job is to remedy problems as they arise.

In some cases, you are dealing with fatalities or life-changing events for someone you’ve never met, or even worse -- someone you know.

That is what officers of the law deal with every day when they take to the roadways during their shift.

Recently, officer Troy Christianson, State Trooper with the Minnesota State Patrol, stopped by the Journal office to see if there was interest in participating in a law enforcement ride-along.

He said that the Minnesota State Patrol wanted to encourage people to be more alert to upcoming concerns such as distracted driving, along with more people on the road with increased tourism travel.

Their Purpose

A lot of travelers will talk about how State Troopers have a quota of tickets to issue each month. According to Troy Christianson, while he hears that same myth often, it’s not true.

The job of all law enforcement is often to protect us from ourselves, while keeping our roadways safe. And, safety comes in many forms.

It may be a matter of setting up saturation zones in areas where a history of accidents has been more prevalent, in an effort to encourage all drivers to slow down and stay under the speed limit.

As the Minnesota Department of Transportation focuses its energy and initiatives on the Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) traffic safety program, there are many areas of concern. Motorcycle-related injuries and deaths have been on the rise. As the season of prom dances beckons, teenagers will be having a good time while getting behind the wheel. And, while law enforcement is always on the lookout for individuals driving under the influence of alcohol, State Trooper Christianson said, “We’ve seen an increase in people driving under the influence of drugs like marijuana and meth.”

In all cases, there is a collaboration of local, county and state law enforcement agencies focusing their attention on keeping the roadways safe for all travelers.

Strength in Numbers

State Trooper Christianson, a 14-year veteran with the Minnesota State Patrol, shared information regarding his department.

There are over 550 State Troopers serving the State of Minnesota. Fillmore County is located in District 2100, sharing the territory with 10 other counties that include Houston, Mower, Freeborn, Steele, Dodge, Olmsted, Winona, Wabasha, Rice and Goodhue.

In District 2100, there are 42 State Troopers serving the 11 county area. The Minnesota State Patrol works closely with all local and county law enforcement agencies.

In Fillmore County, Sheriff Daryl Jensen reported that there are 19 deputies, four dispatchers, and six staff overseeing the county jail. Local law enforcement agencies included the following: Preston Police Department has three full-time and 15 part-time officers; Rushford Police Department has three full-time and three part-time officers; Chatfield Police Department has five full-time and three part-time officers; Fountain Police Department has one officer; Ostrander Police Department has one officer.

Collectively, with state, county and local law enforcement, there are 96 officers involved in patrolling the roadways in and around Fillmore County.

On The Road Again

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, April 7, 2014, I rode in the passenger seat of the all-wheel-drive 300 horsepower 2014 Ford Taurus to get a glimpse of what a day would be like behind the dashboard of a Minnesota State Trooper.

My first impression was that the squad car for a State Trooper is essentially their office each day while they are on patrol. And, this office if fully equipped with WiFi Internet access. With a laptop stationed in the center console, they are traced via a Global Positioning System (GPS) by dispatch in the Rochester headquarters. State Trooper Christianson displayed a map showing all other State Troopers on duty in District 2100.

There are multiple camera angles with the ability to record interactions on the road or in the vehicle. One camera provides a view of officer interaction with a vehicle pulled over just ahead of the squad car. Another camera points to the backseat of the vehicle for any detained individuals.

The technology is at an officers’ fingertips, which expedites communications with the Rochester headquarters while also collaborating with local and county law enforcement.

Prior to Monday, April 7, 2014, we had originally scheduled for a ride-along on Friday, April 4, 2014, but a substantial winter storm made it impossible for State Trooper Christianson to meet up with me in Preston. There were too many accidents to contend with as travelers slid into ditches and collided with other travelers on the roadways. The element of weather conditions, especially this past winter, create a completely different set of problems.

So, our travels on Monday, April 7, 2014, were pretty calm in comparison to Christianson’s experience on Friday. As we patrolled the city of Spring Grove, State Trooper Christianson noticed a driver not wearing his seat belt. In Minnesota, it is a primary law that travelers are required to wear a seat belt. Historically, a ticket could be issued for not wearing a seat belt if a driver had been pulled over for another violation. Today, Minnesota state law makes it possible for officers to pull over an individual specifically for not wearing a seat belt without requiring another violation.

After Christianson pulled over the driver who was not wearing his seat belt, he came back to the squad car to fill out the citation paperwork. In this situation, the driver said he didn’t believe in the seat belt law and wouldn’t wear one. State Trooper Christianson told the driver that it was a primary law and he could be issued another citation for not wearing his seat belt. The driver had no response.

While issuing the seat belt citation, Christianson received a call from dispatch that there was an accident on Highway 43 near Choice.

So, we traveled in that direction and met up with Fillmore County Deputy Lance Boyum to find a driver who had crashed into the ditch of the winding snake-like roads of Highway 43. The driver was startled but walked away fine from the accident.

The driver had looked down to pick up something in her car for just a second, and then veered off the road while over-correcting once she had hit a guardrail. The winding roads of Highway 43 can be very unforgiving.

Gary Brown with Brown Tire and Battery, Inc. from Rushford arrived on the scene to haul the vehicle away for repairs.

After leaving the scene of the accident, I asked State Trooper Christianson how they were addressing the prevention of accidents.

“Each year, it seems like our fatalities are increasing,” he said.

He makes PowerPoint presentations for high school students in schools throughout Fillmore County, Houston County and Winona County, showing pictures of accidents and explaining how they can prevent themselves from becoming a statistic.

“There has also been additional state funding to increase patrolling for saturation in areas where fatalities are higher,” shared Christianson.

On the way back to Preston, a shiny black Mercedes came blazing by at about 15 miles above the speed limit on Highway 52 between Fountain and Preston.

They knew they were speeding, as they began to pull over on to the shoulder the moment State Trooper Christianson did a U-turn.

After issuing the speeding ticket, I asked Christianson how people typically responded to receiving a speeding ticket. He said that 99-percent of the people he deals with are fine and they acknowledge that they were speeding. As a matter of fact, he estimates that 90-percent of the people he pulls over will say thank you after getting a ticket.

And, immediately after State Trooper Christianson dropped me off at the Journal office at 2 p.m., he was dispatched to an accident on Highway 52 just north of Chatfield. A semi-truck had gone off the road, with the 39-year-old driver walking away with only a broken arm. It could have been worse, since the wreckage looked horrific.

Distracted Driving

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. As this month comes to an end, the Minnesota Department of Transportation hopes you’ll keep this initiative at the forefront of your driving experience.

According to, the official U.S. government website for distracted driving, 71-percent of teens and young people say they have composed/sent SMS messages while driving (Source: And, 78-percent of teens and young adults say they have read an SMS message while driving (Source:

This isn’t just a Minnesota issue. This is a national issue; an epidemic. Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Transportation for the United States, shared “As a father of two, I know how important it is to keep our roads safe. And keeping our roads safe means keeping them free from distracted drivers.”

The most important message law enforcement wants to drive home this month and every day thereafter is that it is important to keep your eyes on the road. With all of the distractions at a drivers’ fingertips, its easy to think we can multi-task and still think we are paying attention to the road. But, if we are not keeping our eyes on the road, there is another set of eyes on the road looking out for all of us -- our local, county and state law enforcement.


Your comment submission is also an acknowledgement that this information may be reprinted in other formats such as the newspaper.


6:50:29, Apr 30th 2014

dave says:
sounds like Jason is a narc hangen with the cops


10:09:26, May 2nd 2014

MNFarm1976 says:
Dave, how is the editor of the Journal a "narc" for reporting about what happened on a ride-a-long with a State Patrol trooper?? I've known other people who have been on ride-a-longs with police officers.

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