Deputies target drunken drivers on the 4th

This weekend, people will be out in celebration of the July 4 holiday. There will also be traffic on the roads after the parties are over. Officers for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Traffic Unit will be setting up patrols and roadblocks to monitor drivers.

Dep. Paul Shute, of the Hillsborough County DUI Task Force Operation 3-D, said he believes that drunken driving is so common, some are afraid to confront it for fear of endangering their daily lifestyles.

“People aren’t afraid of having one of their children killed,” he said. “They aren’t afraid of being charged with a felony, but they are afraid of being pinched for a DUI (charge).”

Operation 3-D is a federally funded program under the direction of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Traffic Unit.

According to the HCSO Web site, the program is designed to increase voluntary compliance with existing traffic laws for DUI. There are 10 deputies that work Wednesday through Saturday as DUI enforcement officers. Their main objective is to get drunken drivers off the roads in an effort to reduce fatalities.

Sgt. Steve Hawkins is planning a saturation of officers on rotating sides of the county for the Fourth of July weekend, as well as roadblocks on roadways that have a high number of DUI incidents. There will be a portable blood-alcohol content testing facility, the BAT mobile, set up as a remote processing site where arrested drivers can be processed and sent to jail in groups. All available regular patrol DUI units will be on duty countywide. The enforcement initiative, according to an HCSO office news release, “is designed for a high visibility, holiday enforcement effort for impaired driver detection.”

Known as the July 4 Holiday Blitz, it will consist of “saturation, or wolf-pack, assignments in all four districts (of the county) during the weekend,” according to Sheriff’s Office policy.

Operation 3-D is short for “Don’t Drink and Drive.” The program is in its second of three years, Shute said, and after the first year there was a 19 percent decrease in alcohol related fatalities.

In 2001, there were 200-plus traffic related fatalities. Of those, 136 were alcohol-impaired drivers. In that same year, there were only 64 recorded homicides.

Shute said normally, “DUI deputies roam the entire county, from Town ‘N’ Country to Apollo Beach, as traffic enforcement and as backups for patrol deputies who suspect a driver of being impaired.”

Sometimes, the deputies will be dispatched to a concentrate on a certain “problem area.” Shute said that last week, they “worked just the area of South 50th Street.” are seasoned veterans who have a talent for dealing with the intoxicated.

When patrol deputies are trained, they attend a class in DUI enforcement and ride with a DUI unit officer, such as Shute. He said they are qualified to ascertain probable cause for a stop, such as speeding, driving without headlights or the inability to maintain travel lanes, but they do not have the expertise to quickly determine a subject’s impairment. Shute said a patrolman might take three hours to process a drunken driver on his own, but the average for a DUI officer is 90 minutes. This means that on an average 10 or 12 hour shift, a DUI unit can process up to four cases.

When a stop is made this weekend, Shute said officers will administer an array of moderately physical exercises designed to determine a subject’s impairment. When a deputy stops a driver with probable cause of driving under the influence, and is unsure, he can call for a DUI enforcement officer who will administer a field sobriety test for them, in addition to recording it on video as evidence. When it is determined that a subject is impaired, he or she will be taken to the Orient Road Jail to be processed. Drivers might have other impairments related to prescription, over-the-counter or illicit drugs.

At the jail, the subject is asked to take the blood-alcohol content test. If they refuse, their license will be administratively suspended for one year in addition to the DUI charge. The main purpose of the test is to establish that a person was driving with a blood-alcohol content over the legal limit of .08, Shute said.

Shute added that the test is administered in the field only when an officer suspects a driver under the age of 21 of having alcohol in their blood. The legal blood-alcohol content limit for minors is .02. When a driver under 21 exceeds the limit, their license is suspended immediately for six months, but they are not arrested.

All of these policies will be in effect this weekend. Deputies will be out on high alert and ready to make arrests.

“Arrests may go up, but there is no shortage of impaired drivers,” Shute said.