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DUI arrests down during annual winter campaign

Smarter drivers, poor weather and fewer officers on patrol because of budget cutbacks contributed to fewer arrests during an annual holiday season crackdown on DUI drivers, police in Alameda and Contra Costa counties said.

“California is in a budget crisis,” Livermore police Sgt. John Hurd said. “Police agencies are in the same boat. We’re all tightening our belts and have fewer officers designated for saturation patrols.”

During the 17-day-long “Avoid” campaigns, which ran from Dec. 17 through Jan. 2, law enforcement personnel from 25 agencies in Contra Costa County and 21 in Alameda County conducted sobriety checkpoints, where all vehicles were briefly stopped while officers checked that drivers were licensed and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The campaign also featured saturation patrols, with extra officers on duty searching for drunken drivers; courtroom stings, where defendants with suspended licenses were rearrested after trying to drive away; and warrant sweeps, in which officers arrested suspects who had failed to make court appearances.

In Alameda County, a strike team also arrested drunken drivers at the Oakland Raiders game against the Denver Broncos.

DUI arrests in both counties decreased from the previous year’s efforts.

“Most likely fewer people are drinking and driving,” Contra Costa sheriff’s Capt. Steve Warne said.

However, that was not the only factor causing DUI arrests in the county

to drop from 335 in 2009-10 to 293 during the most recent campaign.

“Many of the agencies have been impacted by the budget,” Warne said.

More police departments had officers available to respond to calls for service rather than roving DUI patrols and checkpoints this time around.

“We weren’t able to stop all DUI drivers,” he said. “But overall I think we did a great job.”

The California Highway Patrol led departments in DUI arrests, with 66. Oakley police had the second-most arrests, 45, while Concord police had the third most at 37.

“It’s (due to) proactivity,” Oakley Sgt. Robert Roberts said. “We had all of our officers who worked the night shift look out for drunken drivers. Officers stop every single vehicle with a vehicle code violation we possibly can.”

Some of the drivers from those stops were intoxicated, he said. Many of the 45 arrested were not drunk, but under the influence of marijuana or methamphetamine.

In the larger Alameda County, DUI arrests decreased for the second straight year, from 897 in 2009-10 to 763. Two years ago, 1,270 people were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the campaign.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office had the most arrests, with 333. The Oakland division of the CHP was second, with 125. Livermore police were third with 56.

Besides budget problems that reduced police presence, Hurd said rain and cold temperatures for most of the two weeks of the campaign kept drivers indoors.

“I would also like to think it’s because our community members are thinking more,” he said. “I stopped dozens of cars with intoxicated people, but they had designated drivers. A $20 cab ride is cheaper than the cost of a DUI arrest.”

Neither county had a fatal DUI-related crash, but in Contra Costa County injury crashes where at least one of the drivers was intoxicated increased from 33 to 45, Warne said. In Alameda County, injury crashes decreased from about 20 last year to 13 this year. The department does not keep statistics from previous years, Hurd said.

Roman Gokhman covers public safety. Contact him at 925-945-4780. Follow him at Twitter.com/romithewriter.

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