Grant leads to more UAPD officers focusing on DUI violations

Maxwell J. Mangold

A recent grant to the University of Arizona Police Department could make impaired drivers think twice before getting behind the wheel.

Last week, UAPD announced that the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety awarded UAPD a $35,000 grant, enabling the department to deploy extra officers to combat impaired drivers around the community.

“The grant’s going to allow us to put additional officers out to focus on DUI violations,” said Joe Bermudez, a UAPD crime prevention officer. “And the number of officers is going to be in addition to the normal number of officers.”

Bermudez said the grant wasn’t a result of increased incidents around campus, but rather funding the department has received the last several years from the state. Events where extra officers will be stationed include home football games and other designated events in the community until Dec. 31, according to a UAPD media release.

The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety department allots grants to agencies that apply for additional funding based on performance and need, according to Alberto Gutier, director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. While every agency spends the money differently, frequently it’s expended towards overtime, equipment and training, he added.

“I don’t care if they have one DUI,” Gutier said. “What I care [about] is that they go out there and try to protect everybody else.”

Tucson had 1,129 DUI incidents and non-accidents in 2012, according to Tucson Police Department statistics, in addition to 141 incidents where personal injuries were suffered.

“Get a designated driver, get a taxi, walk home, but don’t get behind the wheel of a vehicle, because that’s very dangerous,” Gutier said.

Gutier added that highway safety began an initiative known as, “Drive Hammered, Get Nailed,” several years ago, and that police keep their eye out for DUI drug-related incidents in addition to alcohol induced cases.

To detect this, officers look for atypical “driver behavior,” Bermudez said, such as swerving, erratic speeds, improper turns and failure to use turn signals, among others.

“Think before you drink. It’s a catchy little thing, but it’s true,” said Billie Smith, president of Designated Drivers Inc.

Smith’s company, which has locations around the country and drives customers home in their own vehicle, has provided more than 300,000 rides since opening in 1998 and plans to open in Tucson sometime this year, Smith said.

In the meantime, Smith said he believes added enforcement anywhere can “curve” drunk driving, since harsher punishments cause drunk drivers to think more before getting behind the wheel.

UAPD, which Gutier said does a “real great job” and is a “great police department,” stresses the importance of the community’s drivers to “remain alert while driving, obey all traffic laws and to drink responsibly and legally.”