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'Last Drink Location' helps police target drunk drivers

'Last Drink Location' helps police target drunk drivers

Suspects are asked specific question
'Last Drink Location' helps police target drunk drivers
After being pulled over for DWI, authorities are asking the question: "Where was the last bar you were drinking in?"
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

When police stop someone they suspect of driving drunk, there are questions, field sobriety checks and, generally, a ride to the police station.

Even drivers who have not been charged with the offense know this routine -- the flashing lights, the tests, the handcuffs. They may not be aware of one aspect of the arrest that happens inside the police station after the breath test.

An interview with police includes this question: "Where was the location of your last drink?"

The person gives police the name of a bar. And the answer becomes another "LDL" -- for "Last Drink Location" -- reported to New York State's Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).

State officials say the statistics are kept to better help police and other agencies plan enforcement for drunken driving.

The Daily Gazette recently filed a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) with DCJS and requested the establishments that have appeared on "Last Drink Location" lists for Albany, Fulton, Montgomery, Saratoga, Schenectady and Schoharie counties. Division officials said they could not recall any media group ever requesting the data.

The data requested -- for the period from Jan. 1, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2016 -- put Albany's "Stout" as the spot for the most "Last Drink Location" answers in the six-county area. Over the three-year period, 60 motorists charged with drunken driving told police in Albany County they consumed their last drink of the night at "Stout" -- an average of 20 per year.

In the other five counties, spots for the most "Last Drink Location" answers over three years were:

  • Fulton County: O'Connor's, 1 North Perry St., Johnstown, with 31.
  • Montgomery County: Knuckleheads, 19 Erie St., Fultonville, with 8.
  • Saratoga County: Caroline Street Pub, 9 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, with 55.
  • Schenectady County: Bombers Burrito Bar, 447 State St., Schenectady, with 15.
  • Schoharie County: Locomotions Sports Bar and Grill, 136 Railroad Ave., Cobleskill, with 58.

The county lists vary in the numbers of bars and restaurants mentioned and in the total number of "LDL" answers. Two of the counties with the largest number of bars and restaurants -- Albany and Saratoga -- had 13 and 11 places listed, respectively. Albany County's total number of "LDL" answers was 381; Saratoga County's total number was 348.

In Schenectady County, 10 places made the report, and a total of 92 "LDL" answers were listed for the three-year period. Bombers was followed by Centre Street Pub at 308 Union St., Schenectady, and Peckham's Place at 7 N. Reynolds St. in Scotia, with 14 and 12 "LDL" answers, respectively.

In Montgomery County, five establishments were listed. In Schoharie County, only three places made the "LDL" report.

Why ask?

DCJS spokeswoman Janine Kava said the department maintains and services evidential breath test equipment used by police agencies across the state. Over the course of machine maintenance, department officials determined they had the ability to capture information police might find useful, like the "LDL" data. Criminal Justice Services has been collecting the answers since 2002.

Crime statistics are part of the division's mission. Kava said the "LDL" numbers are compiled and made available to law enforcement, to help police get drunken drivers off the road.

Information is released four times a year.

"It gets reported to police, police report it to us, and we send it out to those agencies quarterly," Kava said. The details also are sent to the New York State Liquor Authority and to county Stop-DWI programs.

Kava stressed that police receive the "Last Drink Location" information from people who have been pulled over on suspicion of drinking and driving.

"That information may or may not be accurate, based on the person's alleged intoxication level," she said.

Some bars are listed in two different counties in the data provided to The Daily Gazette.

O'Connor's, in Johnstown, is the top last-drink answer for Fulton County, but the tavern also shows up on the Montgomery County list, where six people said they had their last drink there. 

And Shenanigans, the gentlemen's club at 2169 Central Ave. in Colonie, was the answer in Albany County 18 times and in Schenectady County 10 times.

Kava said the double listings occurred because answers were compiled in the counties where motorists were stopped. Somebody leaving Shenanigans, for instance, could be stopped in either Albany County or nearby Schenectady County -- or even farther away.

How last-drink data is used

State troopers ask the questions and later review data from DCJS.  Beau Duffy, a spokesman for Troop G in Latham, said if a retail location has a high number of "last drink" answers, "We will increase DWI enforcement efforts in that area."

Some police agencies said they had not been aware of the statistics. Officers said they were glad to know bars with the highest number of last-drink answers are on lists, and those lists are available.

"When we get these results, if we noticed a trend or a certain bar, obviously we would probably provide a little extra attention in and around that area," said Lt. Matthew Dearing of the Schenectady Police Department.

The answer was the same in Cobleskill.

"We use any data available to help us direct our efforts, so we're more efficient in what we do," said town Police Chief Rich Bialkowski. "The data is helpful; we do focus patrols accordingly when we can. I'm glad to say we have officers here who are very dedicated in the realm of DWI enforcement."

There are not many bar choices in Cobleskill, compared to Saratoga or Albany counties.

"Years ago, we had more bars," Bialkowski said, "but over the years, they closed for various reasons. Currently, we really only have two main bars in town that are more alcohol-focused (Locomotions and the American Bar on South Grand Street). There are restaurants that serve alcohol, but their focus is food. We do have a state university here, so that plays a part in it."

In Colonie, Lt. Ken Pero of the town police department's traffic division said officers do not use the statistics to "sit" on bars, waiting for people to leave so they can be pulled over.

"That's the last thing you want to happen. That's targeting," he said. "What we can do with that information is ... if I see a certain establishment where it's the last drinking location, I'm also going to check with our communications and see how many other calls for service have we had at this bar. Have we had bar fights there? Is it something that should be reported to the (Liquor Authority)?"

In addition to the last-drink location, Pero said he also checks police reports for the ages of those giving the information.

"If, all of a sudden, we're getting DWIs and they're saying, 'Yeah, I was at such-and-such pub,' and they're only 18 or 19 years old, then they're being served illegally," Pero said.

A question of accuracy

Like the DCJS, Pero is concerned about the truth factor.

"If somebody goes to the ABC pub, and they get arrested, and they know if they get arrested they're going to be asked that question," Pero said, "they're going to say, 'I was at the XYZ pub,' and get them in trouble."

In Saratoga County, six of the top 10 last-drink bars listed are located on often-busy Caroline Street in the city of Saratoga Springs. Caroline Street Pub (55), Saratoga City Tavern (44), Clancy's (33), Gaffney's (26), Dango's Irish Sports Bar (25) and the Paddock Lounge (20) all made the list.

Twenty-two people said they had had their last drinks at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

The Paddock Lounge has since closed.

"Just by its nature, I say Caroline Street is an animal of its own," said Lt. Robert Jillson, a spokesman for the Saratoga Springs Police Department. "It has its own thing; it's a concentration of bars, so our priorities here in Saratoga are enforcing the laws ... DWI enforcement is paramount with our mission."

The concentration of bars and restaurants is higher in Saratoga County than in other local counties. The high lalst-drink numbers come, Jillson said, because police are doing their jobs.

"We have a young, proactive police force," Jillson said. "They make a lot of contacts, a lot of traffic stops, traffic enforcements. We're going to have a high number of arrests. I think our statistics in the chief's annual report probably reflect that. But most of the people are coming from that area because that's where the concentration is."

Getting beyond the numbers

Police say they can use the statistics to devise patrol plans. Jillson believes they can be used in another way: Maybe police will visit bars, taverns or restaurants with high numbers of last-drink answers and talk to owners, bartenders and doormen about keeping a better watch on those drinking inside.

"It would definitely be something we'd think about," Jillson said.

John Lubrant, the retired Niskayuna Police Chief now working as director for Schenecady County Stop-DWI, said some last-drink answers have been friends' homes.

He said police agencies will discuss last-drink statistics together.

"Review and assessment occurs within individual agencies and municipalities, and then an opportunity arises during monthly (Stop-DWI) meetings for that to maybe be discussed on a collective basis, also," Lubrant said.

William Crowley, a spokesman for the Liquor Authority in Albany, said the last-drink data helps the authority identify and target resources on potentially problematic locations.

"While last drink reports are not direct evidence of a violation under the ABC (alcoholic beverage control) law," Crowley said in an email note, "these reports, along with complaints the (Liquor Authority) receives, police reports, past violations and other intelligence gathered, help the (authority) to more accurately target locations."

If a bar or restaurant is connected to an unusually high number of DWI arrests, Crowley said, the agency will follow up with increased enforcement.

"We are aware that DWI defendants may not be the most reliable source of information," Crowley said, "and while this information is not alone proof of a violation, it does raise a red flag when bars that are repeatedly on the list -- and these establishments are subjected to closer scrutiny."

Behind the bar

Bar owners and managers from Graney's Stout, Caroline Street Pub, O'Connor's and Locomotions did not return several phone calls. Some bar workers did talk about their inclusion on the last-drink lists.

Paul Tracy, general manager at Bombers in Schenectady, considers the bar's spot at the top of the Schenectady County list (15 last-drink answers) "negative publicity" for something he believes can be easily prevented.

"It's certainly troubling that we're the last stop," Tracy said. "This is something we take seriously. We TIP-certify (Training for Intervention Procedures) our bartenders and servers. We do our diligence to make sure people aren't getting over-served. But a lot of times, you can get a DWI just by touching the threshold."

TIP programs are designed to prevent intoxication, underage drinking and drunken driving by enhancing the people skills of servers, sellers and consumers of alcohol. TIPS helps people recognize potential alcohol-related problems and intervention techniques to prevent alcohol-related problems.

The Uber argument

"Ultimately, what it screams to me is we need more reliable transportation for those who decide to go out and party," Tracy added. "Matt Baumgartner (owner of Bombers and several other Capital Region taverns) is a huge proponent to bring Uber up here, just ride sharing in general, and it's something the Capital District lacks."

Uber is Uber Technologies, an online transportation network that allows consumers to request transportation or food delivery through the Uber mobile app. Uber drivers use their own personal cars and charge for the rides.

Tracy said taxicab infrastructure is just not in place.

"You call a cab for a patron, and they're waiting 45 minutes most times," he said. "Most of the time, they'll just give up and they'll walk or seek alternative transportation."

Tracy also wondered whether the monetary impact of fewer DWI arrests and convictions is holding up ride-sharing options.

"You know the counties make money on DWIs; that's a given," he said. "And they make more money selling taxi medallions than they do selling ride-share certificates."

Spotting the problem

Personnel at the Centre Street Pub in Schenectady also were willing to talk.

"I'm glad that I know the number," said Kirsten Slurff, a bartender and manager at the Union Street bar. Over the past three full years, 14 people said they had their last drinks at the Union Street bar.

"We try not to over-serve people, of course," Slurff said. "We try to use our best judgment as bartenders and servers."

Slurff said spotting people who may have had too much to drink can be tricky.

"Nowadays, it's really hard," Slurff said. "Some people don't pay attention; they're fiddling with their phone or their money, so to get them to look at you with the eye contact is also difficult. Those are the things you look for as a bartender: if they're slurring their speech -- eye contact."

She said doormen help bartenders and servers spot people who should not be drinking anymore. Sometimes, people on a bender can't hide their intoxication.

"If you're stumbling, if you are irate, if we refuse service and you start yelling at us, that's a good indication you've had one too many," Slurff said. "We just go by body language most of the time."

Bartenders know some of the games drinkers play -- like sending a friend to the bar to order drinks to avoid a close personal inspection. Slurff said those people are usually noticed.

"That's where the bouncers come into play -- that's where experienced bartenders come into play," she said. "I tend bar here, and I also manage here. I make sure we're all TIP certified. We've taken the course on overdrinking and making sure people are not intoxicated and sending their friends up to the bar. We're pretty aware of what's going on."

People are turned away.

"It could be one a week; it could be a four a week, it could be none for the month," Slurff said.

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124, at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog can be found here.

'Last Drink' reports by county

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Chief Rich Bialkowski
Chief Rich Bialkowski
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