August 29, 2013

Patrol officers nationwide will ramp up enforcement with checkpoints and increased visibility through Labor Day, looking for the drunken drivers they say are more likely to get behind the wheel during a holiday weekend.

But most law Carroll-area enforcement-departments, some of which are understaffed, won't participate in the national "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" campaign. Rather, they'll continue doing what they always do - keep an eye out for drunken drivers while out on patrol.

"Obviously we pay a lot of attention to potential intoxicated drivers every day, whether there's a campaign or not," Carroll Police Chief Jeff Cayler said, adding the Carroll Police Department currently is three officers short.

Holiday weekends pose a higher risk for drunken driving, and Labor Day is no exception, with summer ending, high-school and college football starting and an extra day off school and work, Cayler said.

But area law-enforcement officials say those in the Carroll area choose to avoid drinking and driving more often than not.

The Carroll Police Department reported 52 operating-while-intoxicated charges in the fiscal year ending June 30, compared with 56 stops the previous year and 67 stops five years ago.

Part of that could be due to a shortage of officers, Cayler said.

"But I think that the public awareness of the dangers of drunken driving (plays a role)," he added. "People may still be out drinking, but I think they're a lot more cautious about driving afterwards."

Carroll County Sheriff Doug Bass said although drunken driving is a problem everywhere, including Carroll, it doesn't seem to increase on Labor Day weekend.

As with Carroll Police Department officers, those in the Carroll County Sheriff's Department will simply patrol as usual this weekend.

They'll have help, he said. Since most drivers have cellphones now, the department receives more calls saying someone on the road seems to be impaired.

"We have a lot more eyes and ears out there than we used to," he said.

The Crawford County Sheriff's Department also won't formally participate in the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign.

Rather, the department conducts periodic "interdiction nights," during which officers are much more likely to pull over drivers for taillight, seat-belt or turn-signal violations, and then also see if they are drinking and driving, office administrator Suzi Blume said.

"It lets the public know we are out there and are watching," she said. "Just because we don't do it every single night doesn't mean we don't watch."

Periods of increased violations might not show up when people expect.

"It runs in spurts," she said. "It seems like it's worse when there's a full moon. I can't help it; it really does."

And when Blume returns to the office after a holiday weekend, she said, she sees more speeding violations than OWI charges.

The department sends data to the Iowa Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau as part of a program called sTEP - special Traffic Enforcement Program.

The program offers agencies up to $4,500 to cover equipment and overtime for increased enforcement during five holiday periods throughout the year. One of those periods lines up with the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign. In return, the agencies send traffic-violation data to the bureau.

The Sac County Sheriff's Department also participates in the sTEP program, Sheriff Kenneth McClure said.

This weekend, that department's officers will patrol as usual, but they might pull over drivers for violations that don't usually lead to a stop, he said, such as driving eight miles an hour over the speed limit or failing to signal before turning.

Even with smaller departments, high officer visibility is important, sTEP Coordinator Randy Hunefeld said.

"Enforcement affects not only the person you're stopping," he said. "People see the red lights and the car stopped; in essence, we're hoping that will change their driving behavior - cause them to slow down, to slip on that seat belt if they don't have it on."

But in some cases, restraint might come down to conscience, said Cayler, who was almost killed by a drunken driver in 1982.

"Somebody goes out, has a few too many ... the idea you can permanently injure someone or kill them is something they'd have to live with for the rest of their lives," he said. "I think when you reach the point, or get anywhere near the point, where you might have a problem, you have no business getting behind the wheel."