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DUI incidents captured on video

March 16, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

DUI incidents captured on video

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - In response to public outcry over drunken drivers, Martinsburg city police have toughened up their efforts to catch offenders by acquiring surveillance equipment for use by a DUI Enforcement Team.

In 1995, the most recent year for which statistics are available, Berkeley County had the second-highest DUI fatality rate in West Virginia. About 43 percent of all fatal accidents were DUI-related, said Lela L. von Philp, traffic safety coordinator for the Eastern Panhandle Community Traffic Safety Program.

Police said they want to ensure that those who ignore the law pay the penalty. In mid-February, the department organized a four-person DUI Enforcement Team that patrols on weekends and holidays looking for signs of intoxicated drivers.

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Last week, the department was given a camera that will be mounted in a patrol car to document those arrests.

It's the most accurate documentation of evidence possible, von Philp said. Few can make excuses when confronted with their slurred speech and shaky gait on video, she said.

"Officers will often play them the tape. A lot of them look at it and say, 'You know I was going to say I wasn't that drunk, but apparently I was,'" said Capt. Ted Anderson, acting chief of Martinsburg City Police.

This is the department's third camera. All three were bought by the Eastern Panhandle Traffic Safety Program with grant money from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association.

With a camera, "You can hear if the driver has slurred speech, see if he has difficulty getting documents out of the glove box and watch (field sobriety tests,)" Anderson said.

Officer Steve Urbanski, a member of the DUI Enforcement Team who made 24 DUI arrests last year, said the camera's effectiveness is irrefutable.

"If you have a jury trial, forget about it," Urbanski said. "A jury would deliberate for five minutes before coming back" with a guilty verdict.

In 1995, the police department made 103 DUI arrests. That jumped to 124 the following year, and to 180 arrests in 1997.

Every time members of the enforcement team patrol, they arrest at least one drunken driver, Urbanski said.

Anderson said he believes the growing number of arrests is due to the department's efforts to crack down on drunken driving.

Despite the arrest rate, he believes the zero tolerance message is being heard.

"We see a lot of cabs pull up at bars," Anderson said.

Cpl. Charles Ellis said the department's perseverance has hit home with people who tipple and travel.

"Most people, to be honest, try to avoid town whenever they can because there are so many police officers," Ellis said.

With the new $5,000 camera system, three patrol cars on any given shift will be able to record DUI stops or any other traffic-related offenses.

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