With the Independence Day holiday looming, police are again vowing to be extra watchful of suspected driving under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicants. But Erie County officials say there's a downward trend in the number of arrests in the first half of 2019.
Arrests from January to the end of June totaled 1,254, down just over one percent from the previous year, and are down 11 percent from 2017, said Erie County officials Monday morning.
"We attribute that to mainly three factors," said Erie County Commissioner of Central Police Services James Jancewicz. "One is enforcement. Number two is education and number three are the options and alternatives out there to drinking and driving."
The alternatives, he elaborated, include ride-hailing, taxi services and designated drivers. When discussing the education factor, Jancewicz recalled a recent program involving local high school students who, in an initiative led by the Erie County Stop-DWI Office, observed the procedures officers use to spot and stop suspected drink drivers. These included watching an actual DWI checkpoint.
"These (student) ambassadors, along with a guidance counselor and school resource officer, went through the checkpoint," Jancewicz said. "They got to see firsthand the interaction from police: the questions that are asked, the actions that are taken in a checkpoint."
They also participated in a field sobriety test.
"These students went through that and I can tell you, it was eye-opening for them," he added.
Hamburg Police Chief Greg Wickett suggests while officers are always on the lookout for suspected driving under the influence, there are several times per year when increased attention is needed. These include the Christmas season, prom season, Buffalo Bills home games and "the summer in general."
"And the peak of that season is probably the Fourth of July week," Wickett said.
Additional patrols are paid for, he told reporters, using dollars from DWI fines.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz added that the Erie County Sheriff's Department will also be watching boat operators closely to keep local waters safe.