BANGOR, Maine — If you’re planning on drinking at a holiday party in Maine be sure to have a designated driver or hire a taxi to take you home because police agencies around the state are stepping up patrols targeting drunken drivers.
More than 70 state, county and municipal police departments in Maine were awarded grants through the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety’s Drive Sober, Maine! campaign recently. More than 60 of those agencies received a $10,000 grant through the program, while 12 agencies received a $5,000 federal grant to participate in a national crackdown. The Maine Bureau of Highway Safety program runs through September 2014.
The grant money allows departments to pay for extra shifts for patrols and checkpoints designed to catch impaired drivers.
“I think it’s very important,” Bangor police Sgt. Catherine Rumsey said on Wednesday. “Our officers are very busy with day-to-day patrol work. They don’t always have time to look for impaired drivers. With having people on shifts dedicated to that, I think you’ll see an increase in OUI charges, and hopefully have a decrease in [people driving impaired].”
Bangor police had issued 177 operating under the influence charges in 2013 as of Tuesday, which is up from 153 in 2012, according to Rumsey. Portland police have made 243 arrests and issued 40 summonses for OUI in 2013, Cmdr. Gary Rogers said Thursday. He did not have 2012 figures.
Statewide, there were 7,014 charges of operating under the influence in 2012, a number that continued a downward trend since 2008 when 8,629 OUI charges were handed out, according to the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Statistics for 2013 are not yet compiled.
OUI convictions also have declined statewide since 2008. In that year, there were 5,164 OUI convictions. That number dropped to 4,037 in 2012. It is not clear if the decline is because of successful prevention, police not having the resources for enforcement, or other factors.
The goal, Rumsey said, is for people to stop getting behind the wheel of a car after drinking alcohol or taking drugs.
“It’s such a risk to do that,” she said.
Newport police Chief Leonard Macdaid said that his department will receive two dash cameras valued at $5,000 apiece in addition to the grant.
“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “It enables us to solve two problems — combat impaired driving and get the cameras we’ve wanted for years.”
Macdaid said the Newport Police Department will perform 57 patrols seeking impaired drivers through September 2014.
Rogers said Portland police would begin what police call “saturated patrols” Thursday evening.
Rumsey added that the Bangor Police Department will let the public know when saturation patrols and checkpoints will be performed, but not where or what time of day.
“I guarantee we’ll have some of these saturated patrols soon, and especially during New Year’s Eve,” she said.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Rumsey laid out the penalties for operating under the influence charges.
“Beyond the risk of causing death or serious bodily harm to yourself or others, there are hefty penalties involved if you are arrested and/or convicted of an Operating Under the Influence charge,” Rumsey said in the statement. “If arrested, you can expect to pay at least $60 to a bail commissioner to get out of jail and at least $65 to get your towed vehicle out of impound. If you were to be convicted of OUI, you would face a minimum fine of $500 imposed by the court system, a minimum 90 day license suspension imposed by the court and/or the state, and (depending on the circumstances) you could face jail time.
“If you know you will be drinking, make sure you have made a plan for getting home safely. Have a designated driver in your group who is committed to remaining sober, have money for a cab, or have a sober person come pick you up. Remember ‘Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over.’”