# Iowa State Patrol

Iowa State Patrol fatality involved vehicle model with "inadequate" headlights

John Morrissey is a freelance writer in Des Moines.

Iowa State Trooper Ted Benda, who died of injuries suffered in a single-vehicle crash on October 14, had been driving a vehicle rated by a national standards organization as having poor-performing headlights.

The Iowa State Patrol reviews a variety of information about vehicles it purchases, spokesperson Sgt. Alex Dinkla told Bleeding Heartland. The department has received “no complaints” about vehicle headlights, he said. The Iowa State Patrol has not yet issued its final crash report; Dinkla suggested it may take weeks or months to complete.

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Who will pay for Iowa troopers' Texas deployment?

State officials have not yet determined how an unprecedented deployment of 25 to 30 Iowa state troopers to Texas will be financed, Iowa Department of Public Safety spokesperson Debra McClung told Bleeding Heartland.

Governor Kim Reynolds announced on June 24 that she approved the Texas governor’s request for help in unspecified border security efforts. She’s authorized to do so under the interstate Emergency Management Assistance Compact.

While the Iowa National Guard has often been deployed to other states, this kind of work is beyond the scope of state troopers’ normal duties. McClung confirmed, “We are not aware of any Iowa State Patrol deployments outside of the state over the last 24 years since Iowa joined the EMAC.”

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Terrace Hill fence approved last summer; governor's role unclear

Officials in the Iowa Department of Public Safety and the governor’s office decided during the summer of 2020 to install a permanent fence around the Terrace Hill mansion in Des Moines, records obtained by Bleeding Heartland show.

The documents don’t reveal, nor did state officials clarify, whether Governor Kim Reynolds or her staff pushed for added security around the governor’s official residence. The records also don’t explain the timing of the decision to move forward with a plan that had been floated years earlier, according to the agency responsible for protecting the governor.

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State Patrol must respect civil rights at Iowa Capitol

Iowa lawmakers have never enacted a “bathroom ban” targeting transgender people, but some State Patrol officers took it upon themselves to enforce that non-existent policy at the Capitol on March 12.

Security guards forced a large group of students to leave the building because some of the teens had used restrooms conforming to their gender identity.

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Traffic deaths in Iowa hit lowest level since World War II

State officials say Iowa’s road death toll in 2009 is the lowest since 1945, the Des Moines Register reported on January 2. There were 371 recorded traffic fatalities last year, although the number could rise slightly if additional deaths are reported from the end of December. Register reporter Mike Kilen noted several factors that helped reduce the number of fatal accidents: Iowans cut back on miles driven because of the recession, cars and roads are safer, and more people are wearing seat belts. Smart policing was also at work:

“The emphasis has really been placed on the drunken driver, with 20 to 25 percent of fatalities involving drinking,” [Iowa State Patrol Chief Col. Patrick] Hoye said.

The state patrol initiated Safe Saturdays this summer, putting more troopers on the roads on Saturday nights during June, typically the deadliest month.

“The (drunken driving) arrests went way up and there was a dip in the deaths,” he said.

We’ll never know who is walking around alive today because state troopers wisely focused on the most dangerous drivers at the most dangerous times. All who devised and carried out those policies deserve credit.

In November Iowa Republicans announced a “Liberty Agenda” that included this proposal:

Restore the number of State Troopers to the pre-1998 level within the next five years.

Since 1998, the last year in which Republicans controlled state government, the number of State Troopers has dropped from 355 to 288.

During the upcoming legislative session, I will be curious to hear how Republicans make the case for hiring as many state troopers as we had in 1998. I don’t pretend to know what the ideal number of state troopers is for Iowa, but it seems like they decided the 1998 level was needed because Republicans controlled state government at that time. Aren’t Republicans supposed to be for using state resources efficiently and not expanding the size of government for its own sake?

Kilen asked Scott Falb, the driver safety specialist for the Iowa Department of Transportation, about ways to reduce road deaths further. Falb suggested several changes but did not mention increasing the number of state troopers:

Improvements to roadways, such as rumble strips on center lines and shoulders and engineering tweaks, would help lower fatalities even more in the future, Falb said.

Proposed laws to restrict cell phone use and texting while driving, added restrictions on younger drivers and seat belt requirements for anyone in a vehicle under the age of 18 would also help lower the number of deaths, he said.

If the legislature decides to restrict cell phone use while driving, lawmakers should note that hands-free cell phones are no safer for drivers than ordinary cell phones. This New York Times piece on distracted driving explains why.  

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