Sunday, July 08, 2007

Police step up DWI enforcement during the summer

Police step up DWI enforcement during the summer
Police step up DWI enforcement during the summer
(Original publication: July 8, 2007)

State, local and county police have made more than 18,000 arrests for driving under the influence on Lower Hudson Valley roads since 2002, yet some drivers still insist on getting behind the wheel after knocking back a few drinks.

Although the number of arrests appears staggering, police agencies throughout Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties remain undaunted in their year-round efforts to get drunken and drugged drivers off the roads.

"You would think that people would get it by now, that our enforcement is not going away," said state police Lt. Douglas Larkin of Troop K in Westchester. "If you're going to drink, do it at home, designate a driver or hire a taxi. We're not saying there's anything wrong with drinking - just drinking and driving."

A statewide effort targeting intoxicated drivers began June 29 and continues through today to coincide with the July 4 holiday and summer vacations. "The Fourth of July holiday is the second deadliest holiday period in terms of impaired driving. Only New Year's is greater," said Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano. "This type of enforcement saves lives and reduces the number of alcohol-related injuries as well."

Since 2002, DWI arrests have been on the rise in all three counties, save for a couple of years when the numbers went down slightly.

"It's always a priority for the state police to look for DWIs," said Capt. Steven Nevins of Troop F in Rockland. "You find that a lot of fatal accidents involve people driving while intoxicated."

In 2002, police in Rockland made 641 arrests. By 2006, there were 996. Putnam had 295 DWI arrests in 2002. It was up to 397 last year. In 2002, police in Westchester charged 2,338 motorists with DWI. Last year, the number was 2,515.

"For whatever reason, some people aren't getting the message," Larkin said. "If you're still out there drinking and driving, we're going to make sure you get the message."

Westchester STOP-DWI Coordinator Tom Meyer said county police will team with local departments this summer to find and arrest drunken drivers.

"Everyone has a cell phone these days. If you've had too much to drink, call a cab," Meyer said.

Police employ a variety of methods to combat drunken driving. These include fixed sites - where they set up a DWI checkpoint at a specific location - and saturation patrols, in which extra officers are put on the roads to search specifically for intoxicated motorists.

Most drunken-driving arrests are made in the evening and overnight, police said, and most drunken drivers implicate themselves by their inability to drive safely.

"The simple fact is that if you're driving drunk, you're not going to keep the car between the lines," Larkin said. "That's when you'll get pulled over."

Trooper Greg Kalarchian, who works the overnight shift in northern Westchester and was among the leaders in DWI arrests by troopers last year in the county, said many drunken drivers make it easy for police.

"Most DWI arrests come from (traffic) stops. They cross the double-yellow line, they weave, or they got stopped for speeding," Kalarchian said.

Kent Police Officer Raymond Beauchesne is always among the leaders of DWI arrests each year in Putnam County. Beauchesne's success in getting drunken drivers off the road is the result of simple observation: If he sees a car weaving, failing to signal a turn or crossing the double-yellow line, he pulls it over.

"He's a very aggressive officer when it comes to DWIs," Kent police Lt. Alex Divernieri said.

Once the driver rolls down the window, Kalarchian said, it's easy to tell if he or she has been drinking.

"The first thing that hits you is the odor of alcohol -it's so obvious," he said. "I've had a few drivers who know they've been drinking and try to play it down, but the odor on their breath gives them away."

Larkin said the worst aspect of drunken driving is having to respond to the accidents, or worse - having to inform a parent that a son or daughter has been killed in a DWI-related crash.

Despite the increased police efforts and advertising campaigns, some people will continue to break the law, said defense lawyer Glen P. Malia of Cortlandt.

"From my observations, there are two different types of DWI defendants," Malia said."There are those who have made the mistake and will never make it again. It's not a stigma but a personal embarrassment, the entire arrest. ... The other defendants are those who have a drinking problem and are likely to recommit."