Thursday, July 1, 2010

Collier Deputy Wins National Traffic Safety Award

Sgt. Chris Gonzalez knows the importance of traffic safety both as a law enforcement officer and an automobile crash survivor, and now his passion for keeping Collier County roads safe has earned him national recognition.

Sgt. Gonzalez, of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office Safety and Traffic Enforcement Bureau, was presented with the National Sheriff’s Association’s J. Stannard Baker Award for Traffic Safety on Tuesday. The award is the nation’s highest honor for traffic safety. The presentation took place at the 2010 National Sheriff’s Association Conference in Anaheim, Calif.

“This is a well-deserved honor,” said Collier County Sheriff Kevin J. Rambosk. “Sgt. Gonzalez has dedicated his career to traffic safety and his efforts are keeping our roads safe.”

Thanks largely to Sgt. Gonzalez’s leadership in organizing and executing successful traffic education and enforcement initiatives, Collier County has the highest seat-belt compliance rate in Florida and its roads are among the safest in the state. He also has been successful in authoring nominations for state and national traffic safety competitions that have earned the agency grants, equipment and recognition.

Sgt. Gonzalez’s focus on traffic safety crystallized in February of 2001 when he was training a new recruit and his patrol car was struck by an impaired driver. Gonzalez and his trainee were rushed to the hospital in critical condition. Both survived. After a long recovery Gonzalez returned to full duty. He transferred to STEB the following year.

Sgt. Gonzalez has been involved in every aspect of traffic enforcement including policy making, training, teaching, community outreach, professional development and recognition. He has undergone specialized training in traffic crash investigation and is pursuing his master’s degree in business administration from Northcentral University.

Since joining STEB he has authored five successful award submissions to the Florida and International Association of Chiefs of Police Law Enforcement Traffic Safety Challenges, winning consecutive first- place victories for the CCSO. He also successfully submitted a Florida Department of Transportation Aggressive driving grant worth $110,000 and earned a Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Grant worth $37,000.

“Awards are a byproduct of our dedication to traffic safety and helping the public to stay safe,” Sgt. Gonzalez said.

His philosophy is that roads are safest when motorists respect their fellow drivers.

“Plan your day accordingly,” he said. “Leave earlier so you do not take on reckless driving habits such as speeding and improperly switching lanes. Courtesy carries over.”

Sgt. Gonzalez was 19 years old when he became a CCSO dispatcher in 1993. He worked in Corrections and Patrol before moving to STEB.

Even as a child he wanted to work in law enforcement one day. He was inspired by his parents, who were Metro-Dade Corrections Officers. As a teenager he was a member of the Pembroke Pines police explorer unit.

Sgt. Gonzalez said he was moved when he learned he had earned the J. Stannard Baker Award.

“I knew the award well,” he said. “I was humbled upon learning I won such a distinct honor.”

And that crash back in 2001? It’s now a tool Sgt. Gonzalez uses to educate others on the perils of drunken driving. Above his desk hangs a picture of his wrecked patrol vehicle as well as a frame containing some of his personal items gathered at the scene of the crash. He displays these as a reminder to himself, his peers and citizens the importance of traffic safety. It only takes one accident to permanently change lives.