Porter County Sheriff's Department


What's Happening at The Porter County Sheriff's Department


DUI Arrest Down in NWI

Porter County Sheriff's Officer Jose Mendez runs a driver's

license after a traffic stop during his DUI duty shift.



Officer Jose Mendez of the Porter County Sheriff's Department

pulls over a vehicle during DUI duty after the Super Bowl.

DUI numbers are down in Porter and Lake counties compared to four years ago.

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," Rudzinski said.

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 reported.

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 their efforts.

"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 signaling.

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 drunk driving.

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.

Sandy 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 consequences.

"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.

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