Officers turning up the heat

Law enforcement cracking down on drunken driving

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Steamboat Springs Police Department Sgt. Rich Brown, shown here with his patrol car Tuesday evening, is in charge of the city's participation in the statewide crackdown on drunken driving called "The Heat is On."

— As part of a statewide initiative to crack down on drunken driving, local law enforcement agencies are stepping up their annual "The Heat is On" enforcement now through Labor Day weekend.

Steamboat Springs Sgt. Rich Brown said the 18-day enforcement period began Aug. 17 and will continue through Sept. 4. By increasing enforcement, officers hope more people will avoid drinking and driving, he said.

"This period of enforcement is consistent with what we always preach," he said. "Be responsible when you're drinking. Don't drink and drive. Designate a driver or find alternate transportation home."

This year, Steamboat police will conduct "saturation patrols" throughout the enforcement period, which means several officers will patrol the city looking specifically for impaired drivers, Brown said.

"Two nights a week - probably Friday and Saturday nights when we expect to be busiest - we'll have two officers on the streets whose sole responsibility is to look for impaired drivers," he said.

Pamela Hutton, the Colorado Department of Transportation's Governor's Representative for Highway Safety, said officers are "out in force" to save lives.

"End-of-summer celebrations, in combination with drinking and driving, make this a very dangerous time of year on Colorado roadways," she said.

In the past, Steamboat police have conducted sobriety checkpoints during "The Heat is On" campaign, but the department will not conduct DUI checkpoint this year because of staffing levels.

Routt County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Miles DeYoung said the Sheriff's Office also will conduct saturation patrols during the extended enforcement period.

"We've got extra guys coming in working overtime to do selective (DUI) enforcement," he said.

The Sheriff's Office's first patrol will be this weekend. A second saturation patrol is scheduled for later this year, he said.

Colorado State Patrol will conduct similar saturation patrols through Labor Day weekend across the state.

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, 217 people died last year in alcohol-related car crashes across the state.

"Drunk driving is the No. 1 killer on Colorado's highways," said Col. Mark Tostel, chief of the Colorado State Patrol.

Brown said local DUI arrests have been on the rise in Steamboat Springs the past three years.

One hundred fifty people have been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol in Steamboat Springs since Jan. 1. A total of 166 people were arrested in 2006. In 2005, 169 people were arrested, and 174 were arrested in 2004.

"I would say (DUI) arrests are up significantly this year," he said. "I think the occurrences are on the incline because of the increased enforcement but also because we have experienced officers out there who are trained to know what to look for."

More than 67 law enforcement agencies across the state are participating in "The Heat is On" campaign.

- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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