State cracks down on OWIs

  • A new task force has been created by the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office to keep drunk drivers off the road
  • Thirteen different jurisdictions are on the task force along with the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office
  • The task force had much success in their first official run, despite terrible weather conditions

When Mothers Against Drunk Driving came out with a progress report in 2007 listing Wisconsin last in the nation in progressing to deter Operating While Intoxicated arrests, the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office vowed to make big changes.

The sheriff soon created a drunk driving task force, and significant changes were seen after just one year: 951 OWIs were issued in 2007 compared to 1,509 in 2008.

The sheriff's office has now taken an even bigger step with the compilation of the southeast multi-jurisdictional task force — a team that consists of 13 different agencies.

Sergeant William Brown, the supervisor of the new task force, explained how the task force operates.

"When we put this together, the outside agencies focused on the off ramps, so when the person jumps off the freeway system where we are, the other agencies are there waiting for them to make a violation," Brown said. "When this happens we stop, test and arrest."

"Stop, Test and Arrest" is the official motto of the task force. It was put to the test on April 25 during the team's first official run after a trial on April 10. The task force issued 30 OWIs.

This is not what task force is looking to accomplish though, Brown said.

"It is not about increasing OWI arrests. It is about preventing people from driving impaired under alcohol or drugs in the first place," he said.

Brown said this effort was made possible by the Bureau of Transportation, which gave a $115,000 grant to the program.

Dennis Hughes, the safety programs section chief for the BOT State Patrol, said drunk driving programs and laws that have been implemented in the past have always had an immediate effect. The fact that so many jurisdictions are working together makes the effort even more effective.

"It is very gratifying that the sheriff and other chiefs have joined in partnership in cracking down on a problem that is vexing their communities," Hughes said. "The problem does not respect city limits. It is a community wide problem and it is an approach that has high visibility."

Lindsay Desormier, a spokeswoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said that MADD has been in contact with the sheriff's office over the years and has helped consult them and provide information on drunk driving.

"We have tried to help them crack down on drunk driving in Milwaukee," Desormier said. "I know they had their multi-jurisdictional launch on Saturday but one of the things that is hard to measure is the success on making arrests."

Desormier said while she was happy that they were out catching people, she would be a lot more comforted if they did not catch anyone, because that would mean no one was driving impaired.

"We need more awareness," she said. "We need people to think that if they drink and drive they will get caught."

Lamar Advertising Company has been instrumental in helping Brown create awareness. The company put up six free billboards free of charge to warn people of these task force employments — the third of which will be on May 15th.

Brown said it is essential to get people off the road who are impaired and said until that happens he would not be satisfied.

"That is what we are trying to get across here," he said. "We would prefer to have voluntary compliance."