Retired officer made difference, saved lives
Traffic fatalities in the Summerville area averaged around five to seven per year a decade or so ago. Today, they are down to one a year.
This is, in part, due to the diligence and passion of Lt. Bob Burris.
Burris, 52, has retired from Summerville Police Department – a career he began 24 years ago.
While serving in the U.S. Navy for 10 years as a weapons tech, Burris did a three-month tour in Washington state as a member of the security police. Security police, he said, are certified the same as state and local police in the state and enforce the same laws as well as federal law.
“I loved it so much,” he said, “that when I left the Navy I joined SPD as a reserve officer. A year later I was hired on full-time.”
Originally from Wisconsin, Burris fell in love with the area while stationed here. “I had a two-year-old and I didn’t want to keep moving him around so I settled here.”
Burris was assigned to patrol until 1995, then as a detective for two years. In 1997 he joined the traffic unit and has never looked back.
He loves traffic, he says.
He loves it so much that he paid, out of his own pocket at a time when the department had no budget for such, to go to the Institute for Police Technology Management in Jacksonville, Fl. He learned accident reconstruction.
“I love the puzzle,” he explained.
In 2007 he was put in charge of the traffic unit.
“I didn’t like reactive policing [detective work] as much as I like preventive,” said Burris. “I have a real passion for traffic safety and my goal was always to get the fatality rate down.”
Fueling his passion for prevention have been some really tragic vehicle accidents, the worst being those involving children, he said.
The funniest, he recalled, was a traffic checkpoint one New Year’s Eve.
“There was this truck that was coming toward the checkpoint when suddenly it went into reverse and the driver floored it. We chased that truck all over Tea Farm Plantation and finally caught it. Turns out it ran because the young lady driving it was really a guy dressed as a woman and he didn’t want anyone to see him like that. Of course it ended up in the papers!”
Burris cites seat belt use, speeding and DUI enforcement as two factors that have helped bring the fatality stats down.
“I got this letter one time from a lady. It had an angel in it,” he smiled. “I had written her a ticket for not using her seatbelt. Apparently she took it to heart and started wearing her seatbelt. A year later she was in a tremendous wreck and she walked away from it. I still have that angel on my wall.”
Burris wrote the first six traffic grants for SPD.
“Traffic has quadrupled in Summerville in the past 15 years,” he said. “In the ‘90s we probably had a population around 27,000 and now it is 45,000 and that is not counting traffic that originates outside of Summerville.
SPD deals with approximately 165 – 170 wrecks a month, noted Burris, but the injury rate is really low. This is because the impact speed is lower and people are wearing seatbelts, he said.
So what is on his retirement horizon?
He is a grandfather and is “really getting into the grandparent thing.”
“And, well, aside from a ‘Honey Do’ list and golf, I am looking into starting a driving school,” he said.
He and his wife Sandra, who is a teacher at Givhans Alternative program, want to teach teenagers safe driving skills. “I have done many presentations at Summerville High for SPD,” said Burris, and I like working with teens.
In order to do this, Burris will have to take classes in Blythewood through the Public Safety Dept. Further, he will need to purchase a vehicle and take on a hefty amount of insurance.
Father of two, a 25-year-old and a 15-year-old, he already has an in-house student…his daughter just got her beginner’s permit.