Police get grants to crackdown on speeders and drunk drivers
By Anna Krejci and Trevor Kupfer, Dells Events
Lake Delton Police officers Darren Jorgenson and Kristi Seidl have worked the night shift together for the past four years. During that time they've earned the top two spots on the list of drunk driving arrests and kept up a friendly competition for No. 1.
With 2008 just under way, they're excited — and for good reason — because the Department of Transportation awarded two grants to the departments in Wisconsin Dells and Lake Delton. The grants allot about $12,000 to each department to crack down on dangerous driving such as speeding and drunk driving.
"It definitely needs to go to departments that are going to use it, and we will," Seidl said. "Anybody can utilize the grant as long as they're aggressive about it, and that's one of our focuses here."
The crackdown, which runs to Sept. 30, allows the departments to increase the police presence as the grant money will provide reimbursement for overtime hours.
"It puts more officers on the street," said Bret Anderson, police chief in Wisconsin Dells. "Hopefully it's also a deterrent by having that visibility."
Last Saturday Officer Shawn Posewitz took Lake Delton's first overtime shift through the grant, in this instance looking for speeding and aggressive driving. He stopped eight vehicles, issued two criminal citations and eight forfeiture violations.
"We're going to see a lot more arrests and hopefully it'll send a stronger message," said Jorgenson, who made more than 30 drunk driving arrests last year and earned an award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
The departments hope to effectively deter the driving activities, just as their recent campaigns "Click it or Ticket" and "You Booze You Lose" did.
"This allows us to focus on that, whereas during a typical shift we have tons of others calls and complaints that come in," Seidl said, adding an underage drinking party, a popular night shift call, could take an officer off the road for an hour.
"Plus, you have the paperwork that goes with it," Jorgenson added. "We can be really busy in the summer, when there's plenty of drunk driving going on, but if we're tied up on other calls we can't do anything about it. It gets frustrating and that's why this grant is really good for us."
As a general guideline to ensure results, the DOT stipulates about three citations for every warning and a traffic stop every 45 minutes during the overtime shifts.
"They just want to see results," said Seidl, who made about 20 drunk driving arrests last year. "And it's not realistic; if you're out there working a grant shift there's plenty of cars to stop for lawful reason."
Not only does the money help pay overtime shifts, but also buys new equipment that will help police catch people driving over the speed limit or driving while intoxicated.
For the Dells' department, the grant will pay for a laser radar unit, which tracks speed by laser and can also be used in accident investigations, Anderson said. Funds will also pay for officers' traffic vests and the preliminary breath tests administered to suspected drunken drivers. Lake Delton, meanwhile, has alloted those funds toward squad cameras.
Anderson said he believes the department received the competitive grants because the Dells is a tourist area with a lot of traffic. In the past it has seen alcohol-related accidents resulting in injury and sometimes loss of life.
The Dells police have received grants in the past in other areas, like seat belt law enforcement. Several years the department was awarded $4,000 and bought two moving radars and a hand-held radar, Anderson said.
"When we receive these grants its a win-win situation for not only the police department, but for the people in the community because these are all pieces of equipment that the department needs to operate," Anderson said.
Between 11 p.m. and bar close, Jorgenson and Seidl said they find a drunk driver about every eight stops. With a title under each of their belts in the previous two years, they're excited to take on grant shifts in the near future.
"I'm going to get three arrests in five hours," Jorgenson said.
"We'll see," Seidl said with a laugh.