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Task Force Looks to Educate Public About Driving and Drugs

by on October 13, 2014 6:00 AM

The latest figures from the Centre County Alcohol Task Force indicate that driving under the influence remains a serious issue -- and alcohol is just part of the problem.

Police say they're encountering more people who are driving while high on drugs.

Ferguson Township Police Sgt. Ryan Hendrick, who serves as the task force's enforcement coordinator says, "The program is still doing very well, the officers are working hard and the arrest numbers are staying pretty consistent."

From Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014 the task force stopped hundreds of drivers. Here's a look at the results:

Centre County Alcohol Task Force Statistics

  • Driving Under the Influence 65
  • Minor's law violation 13
  • Non-Traffic Citations 14
  • Traffic Citations 153
  • Warnings Issued 583

Those numbers can be misleading because the task force only operates when major weekend events are happening, such as Penn State football games, State Patty's Day and the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller says overall there were 643 DUI arrests in 2012 and 767 last year.

Asked whether the task force is an effective tool, Parks Miller says, "Absolutely, as they serve multiple goals -- to deter people from committing DUIs, to remind people to not drink and drive and to catch drunk drivers who might be flying under the radar and drive down the road and kill someone."

Officers from several area police departments -- Ferguson Township, Patton Township, Spring Township, State College Borough, Penn State, Bellefonte Borough as well as the Centre County Sheriff's Office -- frequently participate in the task force, which conducts roving patrols and DUI checkpoints. Those officers will be taking on a new role in the months ahead.

"The big change is that we're really going to be focusing on DUI arrests that are drug-related," says Hendrick. "We're going to be training our officers."

A big part of the job is trying to educate people. "It's really scary," says Hendrick. He says people get prescription drugs from their doctors and don't read the warning labels. And different drugs can effect people differently -- but they still go ahead and drive.

"Over the past ten years it's believed that 50 percent of drivers are impaired by drugs and not just by alcohol," he says.

The Alcohol Task Force is funded by grants which Hendrick says have been declining in recent years. According to Hendrick that's partly because cars are becoming safer -- resulting in fewer DUI fatalities. However, he points out the number of DUI arrests made by the task force -- 68 in 2012 and 65 in the past twelve months -- has remained fairly consistent from year-to-year.

Parks Miller says, "Repeat offenders and those with alcohol addiction and high B.A.C. are involved in disproportionate crashes and fatalities and need stronger sentences, treatment and tracking."

She says devices such as ignition interlocks, alcohol detection bracelets are needed both before suspects go to trial and when they're paroled following a conviction. She also sees a continuing need for a DUI Court to handle cases involving third time offenders. "We need to stop all impaired driving to keep our roads safe!" she says.

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Steve Bauer was the Managing Editor of Steve and his wife Trina are longtime area residents. They reside in State College along with a wacky Golden Retriever named Izzy.
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