With enforcement, prevention
efforts, drunk driving arrests down in NWI
By Jeff Burton Friday, March 4, 2011
VALPARAISO | Officers around Indiana will hit
the streets tonight, beginning a 17-day
statewide crackdown on drunken driving.
Federal funds will put extra officers on patrol
looking for aggressive drivers during what's
being called Operation Pull Over, but for many
area departments putting extra DUI patrols on
the streets is nothing unusual in their quest to
combat deadly wrecks.
Last month, as Super Bowl parties were wrapping
up, Porter County Sheriff's Officer Jose Mendez
and other officers from around the region hit
the streets, looking to stop drunken drivers.
While officers netted more than a handful of DUI
arrests in the hours following the Super Bowl,
Sgt. Mike Grennes, a Valparaiso officer and
chairman of the Porter County Drunk Driving Task
Force, said the overall number of drunk driving
arrests around Porter County has been declining.
In 2010, 978 men and women were arrested in the
county for being under the influence of alcohol
or drugs while behind the wheel. While that
number held virtually steady from the previous
year, Grennes said it's down sharply from 2007,
when the county peaked at 1,219 DUI arrests.
St. John Patrolman Steve Rudzinski, who heads
the Lake County DUI Task Force, said he's seeing
the same trends.
"DUIs in Lake County are down, too. All our DUI
crashes, injuries and deaths are down,"
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration, the number of drunk driving
fatalities in Lake County has decreased each
year since 2006, when 24 lives were lost. While
2010 numbers haven't yet been made available, in
2009, 16 alcohol-related traffic fatalities were
In Cook County, the number of alcohol-related
traffic fatalities has been decreasing since
2005, when 132 people were killed in drunk
driving crashes. In 2009, that number was down
to 99 fatalities.
Rudzinski said there are a number of reasons for
the drop-off in drunk driving cases, one of
which is that departments are being proactive in
"I think it's because of the increased
enforcement the past couple of years," he said.
Rudzinski said officers from a number of Lake
County police departments participate in
saturation patrols most Thursday, Friday and
Saturday nights, when statistics and crime data
show a higher concentration of people hitting
bars and nightclubs then getting behind the
wheel. He said the saturation patrols place
themselves in hot spot areas around the county
looking for some of the telltale signs of a
possible drunk driver.
According to the NHTSA, there are a number of
cues drivers can look for when they suspect
another driver may be under the influence of
drugs or alcohol. Drunk drivers often have
difficulty staying in their lane, weaving and
drifting between multiple lanes, many also have
erratic speed and braking and inconsistent
While the task forces focus much of their
attentions on enforcement, Grennes said they
also work to prevent drunk driving.
Grennes said one of the task force's most
successful campaigns has officers going into the
county's high schools each spring, right before
prom season, and teaching teens the dangers of
Grennes said using golf carts and goggles that
simulate the visual effects of legal
intoxication, students get to experience the
uncertainty they'd feel if they were behind the
wheel while intoxicated or on drugs.
Gleim, coordinator of
the LaPorte County Drug Free Partnership said
the agency has focused a great deal of energy in
prevention efforts, namely with young people.
She said a recent comprehensive study found
youth alcohol binge drinking is a serious
problem in the county.
The agency offers parents reusable Breathalyzer
key chains they can use to determine whether
their children have been drinking. Gleim said
parents can use the key chains and drug
screening kits the agency also offers, to begin
a dialog about dangerous behaviors and their
"If we start targeting them when they're at this
age, the hope is they won't start these
behaviors, then we won't see them in these
situations," Gleim said.