WATERVILLE — Several local police departments are participating in a statewide program to combat drunken driving that takes place every year, but now is running for an extended period and offering more grant money.
Across the state, 52 police departments and sheriffs’ offices are participating in DriveSober, Maine!, a program funded by the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety and distributing federal money to agencies doing extra patrols and safety checks working in other ways to combat drunken driving. Among those participating are the Farmington, Skowhegan, Waterville and Winslow police departments.
According to the bureau, there were 32 alcohol-related traffic deaths in the state in the first six months of 2012, as opposed to 15 for the same period in 2011.
“Impaired driving has not decreased. This is an opportunity to concentrate on what I see as a very serious problem,” said Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey.
Massey said the Waterville Police Department has participated in the program for the last 10 years, but this year they’ve received $10,000 in grant money as opposed to $5,000 in years past. They have until Sept. 6 to use the money instead of the 90 days of years past.
In Winslow, which has the highest number of OUI arrests per full-time officer in the state, according to Sgt. Haley Fleming, the money definitely gets put to use.
Fleming said that in an average year there are 12.5 OUI arrests per officer in Winslow — about 75 a year — compared with an average of 2.8 per officer in the rest of the state. There have been three fatal drunken-driving accidents in the town this year.
“We don’t have a lot of bars and liquor stores, but Waterville does, so we get a lot of people coming from there,” he said.
In Skowhegan, Chief Michael Emmons said he hasn’t noticed an increase in drunken-driving accidents in the area but said his department participates in twice-per-year crackdowns, usually in the summer and around the winter holidays.
Since DriveSober, Maine! launched on Dec. 1, Emmons said, the department hasn’t made any arrests related to drunken driving. It has received $9,920 in grant money, though, which he said will be used to pay an additional officer to work on OUI enforcement and safety checks.
“I’d tell people, don’t drive after you have consumed alcohol, because we will be out there. We will have roadblocks and safety checks set up,” Massey said.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368