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Police beefing up patrols for holiday

December 30, 2003|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

Law enforcement officials throughout the area agree that drunken driving incidents on New Year's Eve have gone down in recent years, but the number of officers patrolling on Dec. 31 will not.

The county's three largest departments will increase their presence with or without federal and state grant money.

Commanding officers at the Maryland State Police's Hagerstown barrack, the Hagerstown Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff's Department each said they would have additional officers on the street Wednesday night looking for drunken drivers.

"New Year's Eve, manpower wise, is our big night of the year," Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said.

Smith said there will be up to double the number of officers on the street in the city. And although the city department, like state police and the sheriff's department, will not set up a drunken-driving checkpoint, there will be random traffic stops and field sobriety tests, Smith said.

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"We do them differently in the city. It's a little less obvious where we're set up," he said. "It's very labor- intensive."

Smith said authorities will watch for drug activity during traffic stops, especially in the wake of findings during a multi-agency drunken driving crackdown on Dec. 21.

"I think we had almost as many drug arrests as drunk-driving arrests," he said.

During the effort, funded by a Washington County Health Department grant to pay for overtime hours for the three agencies, authorities made 11 drunken-driving arrests and five drug arrests, according to information released by state police.

City police and the sheriff's department did not receive a grant to run a checkpoint or pay for overtime hours on New Year's Eve this year. As a result, both are shuffling schedules to provide extra staffing Wednesday, Smith and Washington County Sheriff Charles Mades said.

Mades said several additional deputies will be on the road from 10 p.m. Wednesday to 4 a.m. on New Year's Day. Deputies will pay special attention to the U.S. 40 corridor around Hagerstown, the Halfway area and direct roads from West Virginia, he said.

Mades said the added presence in recent years has worked well as a deterrent.

"The last couple of years are showing people are finally becoming educated to not drink and drive," Mades said.

State Police Capt. Rob Turano said troopers from his barrack will be able to receive overtime pay thanks to a federal grant. Turano, who declined to say how many additional troopers will be out, said state police would focus on areas where drunken-driving accidents have occurred in the past.

"If you're out there (drinking and driving), we'll find you before you hurt yourself or someone else," Turano said.

Turano and others hope that all the extra cruisers will keep partygoers out from behind the wheels of their cars.

"Hopefully, it'll be an uneventful evening," he said.

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