Somerset County announces formation of countywide drunken driving task force


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SOMERVILLE The creation of a countywide drunken driving task force may become a new weapon to combat binge drinking and alcohol abuse among young adults, according to Somerset County Prosecutor Wayne Forrest.

Forrest discussed the concept Tuesday at the initial meeting of the Community Advisory Panel of the Somerset Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency's Somerset Initiative for Partying Safely (SIPS).
About 30 community leaders attended the panel's luncheon meeting to learn more about SIPS, a public health campaign to educate 18 to 25-year-olds about the harmful impacts of excessive drinking.
Forrest said he will talk to the 19 municipal police chiefs in the county about the possible creation of the cross-jurisdictional task force that will target drunken drivers on three major highways in the county.
For example, police from Montgomery, Hillsborough, Somerville, Raritan Borough, Bridgewater, Bedminster and Peapack-Gladstone would concentrate on Route 206.
Police from Branchburg, Bridgewater, Raritan Borough, Somerville, Bedminster, Far Hills, Bernardsville and Bernards would focus on Route 202.
Police from Branchburg, Bridgewater, Somerville, Bound Brook, Green Brook, North Plainfield and Watchung would target Route 22.
The task force would be modeled after drunken-driving crackdowns in Camden and Burlington counties that used 15 police departments to "saturate" three major roads with enforcement efforts such as checkpoints, Forrest said.
The task force would add to the efforts by the prosecutor's office to educate young people about the dangers of alcohol and enforce laws on underage consumption of alcohol.
"We've been trying for years to prevent tragedies," Forrest said.
Among those efforts have been Operation Safe Passage, which targeted drunken driving and aggressive driving during holiday periods and the Cops in Shops program, which placed undercover officers in liquor stores to apprehend underaged individuals trying to buy alcohol.
The prosecutor said the results of the Cops in Shops program were "a little disappointing" because many police departments did not want to participate and the prosecutor's office had to return unused grant money for the program to the state.

Forrest said he welcomed the SIPS program because its focus is the "forgotten vulnerable group" of young adults who no longer can be reached through the public school system.

Sharon Lutz, executive director of the Somerset Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency, said the $572,328 grant from the state Department of Human Services will be used to collect data about alcohol use in the target population, then develop strategies to communicate with that group.
Lutz said the strategies will concentrate on interactive methods, including the development of a Web site. The initial step is an online survey at
Lutz also said the grant will be used to create a network of informational kiosks in public places throughout the county so information about alcohol and social service agencies is easily available.
Lutz said she hopes to replicate the success of the organization's "Choke on Smoke" initiative, an interactive CD-ROM on smoking prevention that is featured at Liberty Science Center in Jersey City.
"We really have an uphill battle," Lutz said. "We need to go where the kids are."