ELLSWORTH, Maine — The Hancock County Sheriff’s and Ellsworth Police departments have used state grants to beef up OUI patrols this summer, putting more officers on dedicated OUI details.
“The grant funds are dedicated to OUI enforcement,” said Lt. Patrick Kane of the Sheriff’s Department. “We use it as overtime money. We can assign officers to OUI patrols where they won’t be interrupted handling other complaints.”
The state Bureau of Highway Safety makes the grants available to departments throughout the state, and the program has been expanded this year. The program has been effective statewide, according to Michelle Ward, the highway safety coordinator with the Bureau of Highway Safety.
During a two-week period in August last year, police departments statewide conducted a total of 7,153 stops and issued 237 citations, Ward said.
Statewide numbers are not yet available for the 2008 grant period, which began in April and will end at the end of this month. Another round of grant funding will be available in October.
Results from the two departments in Hancock County have been mixed.
Although Kane would not discuss specific numbers, he said OUI arrests by the Sheriff’s Department increased overall by 25 percent from the same period in 2007. That increase does not necessarily represent an increase in drunken drivers, he said, but the department’s ability to track them down.
“From our perspective, it’s the result of more patrols,” Kane said. “The grants give us the ability to identify problem areas. We know areas that we’ve had issues with and we can run the patrols to target them.”
At the Ellsworth Police Department, the number of arrests from the OUI details were down this year, while the total number of OUI arrests during the summer was up from 2007, according to Sgt. Bart Tokas.
Ellsworth police officers conducted 93 OUI details between May and the end of August, which resulted in six OUI arrests, Tokas said. That was down from a total of 10 arrests during a two-month period last summer. Among the details was a joint OUI safety check conducted in conjunction with the Sheriff’s Department in which officers checked 496 vehicles.
Despite the lower numbers, Tokas said, the dedicated details are an important enforcement tool and they should continue.
“Absolutely. It gives us the opportunity to have a dedicated patrol to be out there looking when the officers will not be distracted by regular patrol functions,” he said.
Tokas also said the drop in numbers did not indicate a decline in OUI activity. While the dedicated detail arrest numbers were down, the overall OUI arrests were up during the period between May and the end of August. Ellsworth officers made 44 OUI arrests during that time, he said. That compares to 31 arrests during the same period in 2007.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say that there’s [an overall] decrease,” Tokas said. “When gas hit $4 a gallon, we saw a major decrease in the people being out at the establishments. But the overall numbers are higher than last year. Obviously, they’re still out there.”