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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Sheriff steps up dangerous driving prevention efforts

Sheriff David Clarke instituted the Operation Safe Drive program to encourage defensive driving. Photo by Amanda Frank.

Operation Safe Drive, an effort to keep roads safe during the holiday season, will implement roughly three times the normal amount of deputies for patrol duty from now until January. As a result, an additional 183 Milwaukee County Sheriff’s deputies will be on highway patrol through the new year.

Over Thanksgiving weekend from Wednesday to Sunday, deputies issued a total of 629 arrests and citations — twice the amount issued in 2010. Of those, the most common violations were speeding, with 311 citations, and not wearing a seat belt, with 55.

Deputies reported 51 crashes over the weekend, with 15 involving minor injuries. The rest resulted only in property damage.

Drunk driving accounted for 16 arrests. The Southeast Multi-Jurisdictional OWI Task Force — a collaborative effort between the sheriff’s office and local police agencies — made an additional 18 arrests for drunk driving.

Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke said he is encouraging drivers to practice defensive driving over the winter season. In a press conference last Tuesday, he offered drivers blunt advice to avoid becoming distracted on the road.

“Texting while driving is dangerous,” he said. “Don’t do it … Put the damn phone down and drive.”

Operation Safe Drive was started in 2003 and is just one of the many holiday-specific initiatives enacted by the sheriff’s office.  Other holidays that experience busy travel, such as Memorial Day and Labor Day, also see increased patrols.

Although the number of incidents vary each year, Fran McLaughlin, a public information officer for the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, said the greater presence of patrol cars helps remind drivers to stay safe.

“When we increase patrols, we often see an increase in citations,” McLaughlin said in an email.  “But, the presence of the squads on the freeway does serve as a deterrent against speeding — a reminder to stay within the speed limit.”

Ultimately, McLaughlin said the initiative was designed to prevent crashes and property damage while also helping to improve traffic flow with the increased amount of cars on the road.

The program is funded by a federal grant received through the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for the 2012 fiscal year. The grant is being used to help pay for deputies’ overtime to supplement their normal straight time deployments.

Although traffic issues will receive more attention, McLaughlin said public safety and emergency response will remain the primary responsibility of the deputies.

“No public safety need will go unattended due to a special initiative,” she said. “Things that are emergencies, injury crashes, criminal events on the freeway (and) sick or ill motorists have been, and will continue to be, top priority to deputies on patrol, regardless of specific assignment.”

Stephanie Melendrez, a freshman commuter student in the College of Communication, said the sheriff made the right call in expanding patrols, explaining that holiday revelry often leads to dangerous driving.

“During the holidays there are always a lot of accidents due to more consumption of alcohol,” she said. “There should be police on the lookout to ensure the safety of each driver because one driver can cause many accidents.”

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