Saratoga County

Holiday DWI patrols having impact

Even though the recent Super Bowl featured two NFL teams with large local followings and plenty o

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Even though the recent Super Bowl featured two NFL teams with large local followings and plenty of parties surrounded the game, there were only three DWI arrests in the county, according to local police agencies.

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” said Chief Deputy Edward Rooney of the county sheriff’s department.

And it’s been years since local police agencies netted big numbers of drunken drivers on New Year’s Eve.

It’s a phenomenon police are noticing more: that few arrests are made on the usual drinking holidays even though the overall number of drunken-driving arrests made each year isn’t dropping.

Perhaps it’s because word is getting around that the county STOP-DWI program authorizes extra patrols on those holidays, police said. There were publicized extra patrols on both New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl Sunday.

More bars are also offering cab rides home, free nonalcoholic beverages for designated drivers, and other promotions tied to keep a least one member of the party sober.

“The best thing is, the message might be getting out,” said Mechanicville Police Chief Joe Waldron, vice chairman of the county Traffic Safety Committee.

But despite a decline in DWI arrests around the traditional drinking holidays, the overall number of drunken-driving and drugged-driving arrests is remaining constant, authorities said.

“It’s about 1,300 per year. That’s consistent,” said James Davis, an assistant district attorney who specializes in drunken-driving cases.

At a Traffic Safety Committee meeting Monday in Ballston Spa, police talked about how they’re making fewer arrests on the holidays that used to be popular for drinking — including next month’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

“They’re doing as much planning as we are,” said Rooney, who heads the sheriff’s road patrol. “You’re seeing more parties with designated drivers in them, people planning ahead when they’re going to be going out.”

That doesn’t mean the STOP-DWI roadblocks are wasted, though Rooney said police are writing tickets for other violations they find when vehicles are stopped.

The overtime to pay for additional DWI patrols is paid for by the county’s STOP-DWI program, which has a $395,000 annual budget from fines paid by people convicted of drunken- and drugged-driving offenses.

“The number of arrests is very constant,” said STOP-DWI coordinator Robert Murphy.

Davis agreed the number of arrests doesn’t vary, and said the phenomenon of people planning ahead to have a sober driver on big holidays seems limited to the holidays for which increased DWI enforcement is publicized, or the risks well-known.

“It’s the Thursdays and Fridays, guys going out, who aren’t planning ahead, who are getting arrested,” Davis said.

Because of the increased public awareness of extra patrols, Murphy said police can spend their STOP-DWI overtime anytime during the months of February and March, rather than focusing on a crackdown on St. Patrick’s Day, when the public perception is that the corned beef and cabbage is often washed with plenty of ale. St. Patrick’s Day this year will fall on a Monday.

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