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Police departments use grant funding to crack down on impaired drivers

Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 9:09 a.m. CDT

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As with many major holidays, the St. Charles Police Department ramped up efforts during the St. Patrick’s Day weekend to crack down on drunken drivers and seat belt violations.

The extra traffic enforcement – which also is usually conducted in St. Charles for Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s – was made possible through grant funding from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Police spokesperson Paul McCurtain said the department has participated in the grant-funded patrols for the past several years.

“They wanted to make the streets in our city safer by reducing the number of accidents and actually protecting the people inside the vehicles while they’re driving,” McCurtain said.

Officers mainly target areas with higher concentrations of violations, McCurtain said, noting officers volunteer to work the extra shifts. The state reimburses the police department for the officers’ time and mileage, he said.

The St. Charles Police Department is part of a statewide effort to combat impaired driving. According to IDOT’s Division of Traffic Safety, grants in fiscal 2011 funded about $9.6 million in patrol hours that resulted in 166,318 citations during holiday campaigns statewide. Of the citations, 9,486 were reportedly issued by Kane County agencies, including Campton Hills, North Aurora and St. Charles.

“Ultimately, Illinois Department of Transportation’s primary goal is to save lives with any program we do,” IDOT spokesperson Paris Ervin said in an email.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 278 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in Illinois in 2011, down from 439 in 2007. Kane County had nine such fatalities in 2007, 17 in 2009 and six in 2011, according to the agency.

Locally, police departments can also apply for funding from the Kane County DUI Task Force. Last month, for example, the Sugar Grove Police Department received $8,200 for DUI enforcement to be used throughout the year. Dan Hoffman, Campton Hills police chief and task force chair, said the money is generated from traffic citation fines and is earmarked by the Kane County Circuit Clerk’s Office.

“It really benefits small departments like ours, but it benefits all departments, large and small,” Hoffman said.

His department receives grants from IDOT, which enables his officers to proactively enforce speed limits and seat belt use and watch for impaired drivers, he said.

The special enforcement has shown to be effective, Hoffman said. With the exception of last year, he said, accident rates have decreased, and officers tell him they are seeing more taxis at night.

“DUIs are less prevalent than they used to be in Campton Hills because of the increased enforcement and the public’s awareness that we’re out there,” Hoffman said.

St. Charles police base their patrols during traffic campaigns around the times of day and days that have higher incidents of DUIs, McCurtain said.

Data from the St. Patrick’s Day weekend enforcement was not available Monday, but McCurtain said city police last year made 24 DUI arrests and issued 91 citations for seat belt violations and 87 for speeding through special traffic enforcement campaigns.

In comparison, the campaigns resulted in 35 DUI arrests in 2010 and 34 DUI arrests in 2011, according to the department’s annual report for those years.

“It seems like there’s less people out there that are driving while intoxicated,” McCurtain said. “Ultimately, that’s our goal, not to have anyone out there who’s driving under the influence.”

The state has also noted progress with its Sustained Traffic Enforcement Program, which St. Charles and Campton Hills has participated in. Ervin said STEP is Illinois’ version of high visibility enforcement, a universal traffic safety approach designed to create deterrence and change unlawful traffic behaviors.

The goals of STEP include reducing the number of severe injury and fatal traffic accidents, increasing seat belt use and reducing incidents of injuries and fatalities caused by impaired driving

“2012 marked the fourth consecutive year that the state of Illinois experienced under 1,000 fatalities on Illinois’ roads,” Ervin said.

Almost 200 agencies applied for STEP funding for fiscal 2014, Ervin said. She said IDOT tries to fund as many police departments as feasible.

“But,” she wrote in an email, “the department no longer has discretionary funding that was awarded to Illinois as a result of Illinois General Assembly passing the Primary Seat Belt law. The state of Illinois received a lump sum total of $29,727,619 to be used for a variety of safety measures including the Sustained Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) grant. The lack of these additional funds has made this program – as well as all traffic safety programs – more competitive as federal funds are not as substantial.”

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