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By BRIAN HAWKINS
Law enforcement agencies across the region will soon be placing extra focus on catching drunk drivers during the holidays as part a specialized campaign coordinated by the Mississippi Office of Highway Safety.
The Starkville Police Department, Oktibbeha County Sheriffâ€™s Department, Mississippi State University Police Department and Mississippi Highway Patrol are among the area agencies participating in the â€śOver the Limit, Under Arrestâ€ť campaign that kicks off Thurssday and continues through Jan. 3.
The campaign will focus on DUI and other alcohol-related offenses, as well as seat belt enforcement and traffic safety, said SPD Sgt. Shawn Word, who is coordinating the campaign efforts for the counties served by the Mississippi Highway Patrolâ€™s Troop G.
â€śWeâ€™re asking agencies to step up enforcement during this period. We typically see a lot more alcohol-involved crashes and DUIs on the road this time of year,â€ť Word said. â€śThe officers who write seat belt tickets and make DUI arrests go out and look for them. They create a deterrent for others against drinking and driving.â€ť
â€śWe really want to pick up seat belt enforcement so people will be wearing them during the holidays, particularly if theyâ€™re traveling.â€ť
MHP Trooper Brian Mobley, who serves as Troop Gâ€™s public affairs officer, agreed. MHP troopers will be out in force during the holidays, he said.
â€śWe will be conducting some safety checkpoints throughout the 10-county district Troop G serves. If you think youâ€™ve got to drink during the holidays, then donâ€™t get behind the wheel,â€ť Mobley said.
â€śIf you do, we will be out there, and we will take you to jail,â€ť Mobley said.
Specialized enforcement efforts like the â€śOver The Limit, Under Arrestâ€ť campaign do save lives and deter drunk driving offenses not only during the enforcement period, but year-round, said Robert Hancock, central region law enforcement liaison for the Office of Highway Safety.
â€śMore and more people are getting designated drivers during the holidays, and thatâ€™s a good thing,â€ť said Hancock. â€śOur main goals are to reduce the number of fatality accidents and get intoxicated drivers off the roads.â€ť
Statistics compiled by the Office of Highway Safety show that the campaigns are having a positive effect.
In 2008, there were 768 traffic fatalities statewide, with 38 percent of those being alcohol-related, Hancock said. In 2009, there were 699 traffic fatalities statewide, with 35 percent being alcohol-related, he said.
Current projections show that the number of fatality crashes for 2010 will also see a noticeable decrease, Hancock said.
Efforts to curb drunk driving are also paying off, with law enforcement officers at all levels statewide making 32,000 DUI arrests in 2009.
For 2010 to date, SPD officers have made 444 DUI arrests as of Tuesday, which is a record for the department.
â€śThese campaigns work. They help prevent crashes and help get impaired drivers off the streets,â€ť Hancock said. â€śOver the Christmas holidays, weâ€™re asking agencies to step it up a bit. One of the main things weâ€™re trying to do is save lives in Mississippi.â€ť
â€śWe donâ€™t want to have a police officer, sheriffâ€™s deputy or state trooper to have to go to a family and tell them that there has been a crash with a fatality,â€ť Hancock added.
Since many of the enforcement efforts involve officers not working the regular patrol shifts, overtime pay for the officers is provided through DUI enforcement grants through the Department of Public Safety.