Police gear-up for New Year's Eve drunk driving patrols

According to AAA, New Year's is the deadliest two-day period when it comes to drunk driving fatalities. On Dec. 31, 2011 and Jan. 1, 2012 - 122 motorists were killed nationwide, and most involved a drunk driver. With that knowledge, local police agencies are flexing their muscles to curb intoxicated drivers.

Utilizing part of a $25,000 traffic grant from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, Kosciusko County will launch its Traffic Safety Partnership Monday night. The task force consists of all eight law enforcement agencies in the county: Kosciusko County Sheriff's Department, Warsaw Police Department, Syracuse Police Department, Winona Lake Police Department, North Webster Police Department, Silver Lake Police Department, Milford Police Department and Mentone Police Department.

In total, 11 additional officers will be added to the patrol roster. Sgt. Chad Hill says although the task force will not have an official sobriety checkpoint, officers will focus on certain county areas with high crash rates and DUI arrests. Sgt. Hill adds that portions of Syracuse, North Webster, Warsaw and Winona Lake will be most heavily patrolled.

St. Joseph County is also implementing its Traffic Safety Partnership, placing between 15 and 25 additional officers on the street between 6:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. The added manpower will come from eight county agencies: St. Joseph County Police Department, South Bend Police Department, Mishawaka Police Department, Notre Dame Security Police, North Liberty Police Department, Walkerton Police Department, and New Carlisle Police Department.

Lt. Tim Williams with the Mishawaka Police Department says due to forecasted snow and subsequent wet roads, St. Joseph County will not establish a sobriety checkpoint. Instead, officers will work in roving wolf-pack patrols, which have proven successful in the past. Last year, officers averaged a DUI or OWI arrest every two hours.

"Our goal is to make sure our community has a safe New Year's Eve. We want to avoid any senseless tragedies," Lt. Williams said. "We ask that the public use a designated driver. If someone doesn't have one, call a cab. Your fare will be much cheaper than paying bond at jail."

Elkhart County has a Traffic Safety Partnership of its own, which will also be in full swing New Year's Eve. A number of extra deputies will conduct DUI saturation patrols to make rural and urban roadways as safe as possible.

"We would rather not arrest anybody over New Years, but we will if it keeps intoxicated motorists off the streets," Elkhart County Undersheriff Sean Holmes said. "Crashes involving alcohol are 100 percent preventable."

Elkhart County authorities say despite an increase in the number of designated drivers around the holidays, there's also an increase in the number of intoxicated drivers.

According to IN.gov, there were 686 crashes across the state of Indiana from Dec. 31 2009 to Jan. 4, 2010. Of those wrecks, 53 were found to have involved alcohol.

In 2012, Elkhart County alone saw 103 automobile collisions involving alcohol, producing 39 injuries and three fatalities.

Across the stateline, the Michigan State Police Niles Post is also cracking down this holiday. Although its grant-funded overtime patrols took place Friday and Sunday, Sgt. Mike Dawson says all four night shift troopers will focus solely on traffic enforcement from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Sgt. Dawson says Niles Post troopers, which cover Berrien and Cass Counties, will only break away for life-threatening emergency calls. Anyone with a non-emergency matter will not be able to file a police report until Wednesday, as Tuesday is a recognized holiday.

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