In the last 10 years, the Austin Police Department arrested 64,023 individuals for Driving While Intoxicated. During the same decade, the department investigated 5,868 DWI crashes, of which 195 resulted in death. Sadly, nearly 200 of our neighbors and friends were killed as a direct result of people making the wrong choice.
Since the establishment of its DWI Unit in 1998, the Austin Police Department has steadfastly supported the enforcement of impaired driving laws in the Austin area.
APD has always taken a proactive and aggressive approach to combating impaired driving. As part of our aggressive life-saving efforts, the Department procured a BAT (Breath Alcohol Testing) bus, which is a converted Capital Metro Bus. The bus acts as a breath testing and processing center, and greatly reduces the time enforcement officers are off of the front-lines during arrestee processing. In 2005, APD developed the FASTER program, which is designed to streamline the paperwork involved in a DWI arrest, again helping to get officers back out on the road. These two programs, the BAT bus and FASTER, have put the Austin Police Department ahead of most departments when it comes to handling and processing persons arrested for DWI.
Since I became Chief, I saw the need for the following resources and initiatives:
• Created the position of DWI Coordinator. First staffed with one detective and now currently two, these detectives review all DWI reports and conduct follow-up investigations of all DWI cases generated by the Austin Police Department. In addition, the Coordinator trains all patrol Corporals on how to complete and execute a Blood Search Warrant.
• Purchased and distributed 88 portable Preliminary Breath Testing devices (breathalyzers).
• In 2008, conducted APD’s first No-Refusal Initiative. During this initiative, persons that are stopped and arrested for DWI are given an opportunity to provide a consensual breath or blood sample. In instances where they refuse to do so, officers apply for a Blood Search Warrant. Once a search warrant is signed by a judge, officers execute the search warrant at either the Travis County Jail or at an area hospital.
• Launched the Home for the Holidays initiative, which is a traffic enforcement program designed to make our roadways safer during high holiday traffic periods which data show are some of the most dangerous times of the year on our Nation’s highways.
• The Department was reengineered into a data driven, intelligence led agency. As a result, in June 2012 data analysis revealed that a disproportionate number (25 % of total of DWI fatal crashes) were occurring on Sunday nights. In response to this data, APD launched Operation Summer Sundays where officers worked overtime targeting high speed roadways. As a result of this 11 week targeted enforcement effort, task-force officers made 99 DWI arrests, and the city experienced ZERO traffic fatalities during the operational period.
• Created Arrive Alive, a multi-jurisdictional police traffic enforcement task-force where-in area law enforcement agencies commit resources in their respective jurisdictions that are dedicated to aggressive and consistent traffic enforcement, public education, and awareness. In 2014, APD organized expanded this regional traffic safety enforcement effort and initiated the first Regional DWI task-force. This effort included many agencies from the State and Travis and Williamson counties. This effort was so successful that the Regional concept was repeated for the Labor Day holiday and expanded to agencies in Hays County as well.
Our department has consistently demonstrated an active interest in the prevention, detection and arrest of impaired drivers. The problem we have with impaired driving is a problem we as a department cannot solve alone. It takes a combined effort of law enforcement and community working together to stop the impaired driver from taking over our roadways. There are so many alternatives other than getting behind the wheel impaired. I encourage my officers who specialize in DWI enforcement to keep up-to-date with both the legal and technical aspects in this area of law enforcement so that I can provide the support needed to continue officer efforts in making our streets safer.
I also challenge myself to stay abreast of DWI enforcement and prevention/education and awareness. About once a month, I make it a point to go out on patrol myself. I make DWI arrests and I do it because it keeps impaired drivers off the street, potentially saving lives. APD owes it to the family and friends of the almost 200 people whose lives have been lost because of DWI here in Austin to continue to do everything within our power to detect and remove impaired drivers from our roadways before they harm innocent motorists or themselves.
More importantly, our efforts have evolved to a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency, and year-round effort. We strongly believe that as a result of the collective effort of the APD and our partners, many lives have been saved.
Lastly, by dedicating significant resources and leveraging our regional partnerships, we have not only impacted traffic safety, but have interdicted a multitude of other violent and serious criminals. These efforts are very worthwhile, strongly supported by our community, and will continue into the foreseeable future.