The Board of Aldermen has approved an increase in the amount of funding given to the New Haven Police Department in order to reduce the number of drunk drivers this holiday season.
The Board approved a request from New Haven Police Chief Francisco Ortiz for funds of up to $65,325 from the State Department of Transportation to implement an expanded DUI enforcement program in 2006. NHPD spokeswoman Bonnie Winchester said the money will help increase the city’s police presence during the holidays, a time of year when more people than usual drive after consuming alcohol.
NHPD Sgt. Joseph Witkowski said in a statement released last week that the NHPD will be setting up sobriety checkpoints and conducting increased patrols in neighborhoods throughout the city to arrest impaired drivers from Nov. 23 to Dec. 31.
Witkowski said alcohol and drugs are contributing factors in 38 percent of all fatal motor vehicle crashes.
This is not the first time the Board of Aldermen has passed such a resolution. Last year, the Board granted the State Division of Highway Safety $29,100 for additional police patrols and isolated sobriety checkpoints to be conducted during the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Ward 24 Alderwoman Elizabeth McCormack said the grant was essentially free money given by the state and was not a topic of contention at the Board’s meeting. She said such grants are routinely approved by the aldermen every year.
The NHPD’s move to increase police presence during the holidays is being applauded by some advocacy groups. Mothers Against Drunk Driving State Executive Director Janice Margolis said increasing the number of police patrols and creating more sobriety checkpoints are the most effective ways to stop drunk driving during this time of year.
“People are out there celebrating the holidays and not thinking about what their personal decisions are doing to the people around them,” she said. “We support any state government taking steps to increase enforcement during this time of the year.”
Sobriety checkpoints, Margolis said, involve up to 20 police officers and are usually conducted on back roads. She said officers stop every third or fifth car and examine the driver and passengers for any violation of the law.
“They check for seat belt use and child restraints, but the number one thing they’re looking for is driver intoxication and impairment,” Margolis said.
According to Connecticut law, it is illegal to operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration above 0.08. For drivers under the age of 21, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level of 0.02 BAC or more.
Yale Police Department Lt. Michael Patten said drivers who violate the law for the first time face a hefty fine, classes on drunk driving and a mandatory license suspension for a minimum of 24 hours.