The number of arrests for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) made in Erie County this year is on track to match the 2018 figure of 2,408, according to county data released Tuesday.
Speaking at a press conference with local law enforcement officials, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said he expected to see a larger drop-off in DWIs after the launch of the popular ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft in the greater Buffalo area. The number of DWI arrests has only declined about 10% since they were introduced in 2017.
“While I’m very glad to see the number continues to drop, and I thank our friends in law enforcement for the work that they do, we would really rather see that number be zero,” Poloncarz said. “That means that no one’s getting behind the wheel of an automobile under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”
Erie County Central Police Services Commissioner James Jancewicz also said drivers can expect to encounter extra sobriety checkpoints over the Thanksgiving holiday.
“We’re going to see an increase in enforcement over the next several days,” Jancewicz said. “Beginning tomorrow and all the way through Sunday, we will see a series of checkpoints. These are designated DWI checkpoints that the police officers will be out on the roads looking to detect and apprehend individuals who are under the influence of either drugs or alcohol... or both.”
Rick Mitri, who nearly died as the result of a crash he caused while driving under the influence of alcohol, also spoke Tuesday. Mitri was a founding member of Erie County’s STOP DWI effort in 1991, and he continues to share his story on victim impact panels for individuals who are convicted of a DWI offense.
“In 1978, I was driving, and I was driving impaired by alcohol, and I was in a car crash. Luckily, nobody else was hurt in this crash, but I almost lost my life,” Mitri said, “and so my family and friends became the victims of my crash.”
Town of Hamburg Police Chief and President of the Erie County Chiefs of Police Association Greg Wickett said he understands this is a “big weekend” coming up in Western New York.
“There’s all sorts of events going on, college students are home, families get together for Thanksgiving, and when that happens there’s usually alcohol involved,” Wickett said. “If you decide that you’re going to drink alcohol this weekend, that’s fine, but if you’re anywhere near a vehicle, don’t even consider getting behind the wheel. There’s no excuse anymore.”
Alcohol isn’t the only contributor to DWI arrests. Several officials said they’ve seen increasing numbers of offenses by drivers under the influence of both illegal and prescription drugs. And Jancewicz added that police officers are better equipped than ever to detect the influence of drugs other than alcohol.
“By all means, enjoy yourself this holiday weekend and the holidays coming up, but be responsible. Have a plan,” Chief Wickett said. “[A DWI] is a life-changing event, and nobody wants to go through that.”