$1 million grant targets drunken driving

Posted Sept. 18, 2008, at 10:33 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Maine agencies this week received federal grants that are designed to help prevent drunken driving, improve highway safety and reduce the number of DNA samples awaiting analysis at the state police crime laboratory.

In addition, the Penobscot Nation will receive a $37,000 grant to implement a registry for the tracking and monitoring of sex offenders.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Thursday that the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety will receive $1 million for drunken driving prevention and $100,000 for motorcycle safety.

“We received all our grants for the 2008 fiscal year,” said Lauren Stewart, director of the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety. “We are happy. The last couple of years we received around half a million dollars.”

The funds, shared with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, will go to local law enforcement officials throughout the state to enforce alcohol traffic safety and drunken driving prevention programs, and to reinforce training and education programs for motorcyclists.

“In 2005, 23 percent of all drivers aged 15 to 20 who died in motor vehicle crashes had a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher,” said 1st District Rep. Tom Allen in a news release. “I strongly support this grant program and its objective of curbing the scourge of drunk driving.”

The South Portland Bus Service also will receive $294,000 from the Federal Transit Administration to buy a replacement bus.

The Maine State Police crime laboratory also received two grants this week.

The Justice Department announced that the laboratory will receive $98,000 as part of the Forensic DNA Backlog Reduction Program, which is intended to reduce the number of unanalyzed DNA samples in criminal cases under investigation.

Another $126,000 will go to the compulsory DNA testing of convicted offenders.

Elliot Kollman, the crime lab’s director, said that more money could be used.

He said the money has been decreasing for the past five years. It is intended to reduce the number of cases awaiting analysis.

But as the demand for DNA testing has been increasing — in part because law enforcement officials have become more aware of forensics and use it mainly today for “property crimes” such as burglaries — the number of unanalyzed cases is close as what it was five years ago.

“We had 300 to 400 DNA submissions about five years ago and we already have 700 this year,” Kollman said. “Even if we have increased our capacity, we still have 200 cases waiting analysis now. We are pretty much where we were five years ago. If we still had 400 cases’ submissions, we wouldn’t need the amount we need now.”

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