By CASSIE MCKEE
Four Points News
Officers with the Austin Police Department are ramping up their No Refusal enforcement efforts to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road this summer.
The number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Austin in the first quarter of this year was slightly higher compared to the first quarter of 2016. Between Jan. 1 and March 31, 2017, there were seven fatalities caused by an impaired driver. During the same period in 2016, there were five fatalities caused by an impaired driver.
One positive trend so far this year is that the number of crashes due to DWI is down compared to last year, according to Blake Johnson, operations lieutenant for the Austin Police Department highway enforcement command.
“One trend we’re seeing is both crashes overall and DWI crashes are down, which is a good thing,” Johnson said. “Through the first quarter of the year, DWI crashes were down 23 percent from last year.”
The number of citywide arrests for driving while intoxicated in the first quarter of this year held steady compared to years past.
“DWI arrests are trending about the same,” Johnson said. “(In the first) quarter, they were down 6 percent from last year. Annually, we’re somewhere around the 6,000 mark.”
Between Jan. 1 and April 15, 2017, APD made 1,701 DWI arrests citywide. The three zip codes with the most arrests were 78704 in South Austin with 189, 78701 in downtown with 176 arrests and 78703 in central Austin with 123 arrests.
In the Four Points area, the highest number of DWI arrests made by APD were in the 78726 zip code, which contains the section of RM 620 from Anderson Mill Road to Four Points Drive. In 78726, there were six DWI arrests between Jan. 1 and April 15, 2017. There were 19 DWI arrests total in 2016.
In 78730, there were 2 DWI arrests between Jan. 1 â€“ April 15, 2017. There were six DWIs total in 2016.
Most all of 78732 and part of 78730 are policed by Travis County Sheriff’s Office. TCSO reported eight DWI cases from Jan. 1 through April 15, 2017. There were nine additional DWI cases reported from April 15 – July 2.
Johnson said that despite having a higher number of DWI arrests in a certain zip code, it’s hard to pinpoint specific trouble spots due to people traveling from one location to another and often stopping at multiple locations. Also, officers tend to more heavily patrol high traffic, higher speed roadways such as RM 620.
“The zip code and where the arrest was made doesn’t paint a true picture because it’s a mobile crime,” he said. “It’s a matter of where they got caught.”
To help combat the number of drunk drivers, APD has significantly ramped up its No Refusal initiative, Johnson said.
No Refusal initiative
APD conducts numerous no-refusal initiatives throughout the year over holiday weekends including Labor Day and festivals like Austin City Limits Music Festival. During a no refusal weekend, if a driver is stopped and is suspected of drunk driving, an officer is able to obtain a search warrant on site in order to obtain a breath or blood sample.
In 2015, APD conducted a total of 30 days of No Refusal. In 2016, that number jumped to 107 days and will be even higher this year.
“This year we’re on pace for over 130 (No Refusal) days,” Johnson said.
He said the No Refusal initiatives are now every Friday and Saturday and for extended periods over select holidays.
Austin traffic fatalities
involving an impaired driver
Jan. 1 – March 31, 2016…..5
Jan. 1 – March 31, 2017…..7
Additional DWI Unit
In 2015, because of the high number of fatality accidents that involved an impaired driver, APD added a third DWI unit beginning in July 2015. Each DWI unit is made up of a sergeant, corporal and an average of seven officers that patrol city-wide for impaired drivers. Adding the third unit ensures there is dedicated DWI enforcement seven nights per weeks. Johnson said at times there could be up to 20 DWI officers patrolling the city.
“These are dedicated officers just enforcing DWI,” Johnson said. “I think it’s proved itself to be a better use of that manpower.”
Lynette Haaland contributed to this article.