Anoka County ranked second in Minnesota in alcohol-related traffic deaths and injuries from 2011-13, and three local law-enforcement agencies are getting federal grants to combat drunken driving.
The county Sheriff’s Office and the Coon Rapids and Lino Lakes police departments were among 12 agencies in the state to receive the money, which will allow them each to devote a full-time officer to DWI enforcement, according to the Department of Public Safety.
The grants cover the salary of the officer, plus the cost of a squad car and other traffic safety equipment.
The hope is that the officer will be on the street looking specifically for impaired drivers.
“It is one of the few crimes that officers are really at the forefront and proactive … that we can stop before it occurs,” said Coon Rapids Police Capt. Jon Urquhart.
Last year, Coon Rapids police made 200 arrests for impaired driving, he said.
Urquhart said the officer in his department will be an internal hire, and a few members of the force have already inquired about the position.
The officer will work evenings, holidays and other times when DWI arrests are more common.
“It’s an assignment, and it’s not going to be an easy one,” said Kelly McCarthy, deputy director for the Lino Lakes Police Department. “Its certainly not a cake assignment.”
Twenty-one agencies applied for the grants, which are administered by DPS. To be eligible, agencies had to be from one of the eight counties with the highest drunken-driving records in the previous three years and employ at least 25 officers.
From 2011-13, 25 of Minnesota’s 87 counties accounted for 62 percent of the state’s 310 drunken driving-related deaths and 69 percent of its 844 serious injuries, according to state data. However, from 2003 to 2013, the number of alcohol-related fatalities decreased almost 59 percent, according to DPS officials.
From 2010 to 2012, Anoka County saw 18 deaths, 48 serious injuries and more than 4,500 arrests related to drunken driving, according to the state.
Anoka County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Paul Sommer said he hopes the grant will help with education and public awareness. “But of course our goal is to improve our statistics,” he said.
In Lino Lakes, McCarthy wants to see more creativity in prevention. For instance, last year the department held an event at the local American Legion hall where officers performed field sobriety tests on patrons to demonstrate the effects of alcohol, McCarthy said. The patrons had sober rides home.
“If we never made another [DWI] arrest again we’d be fine with that,” McCarthy said. “If we knew that it was a correlation with how many impaired drivers we had on the road.”
The other departments receiving grants were the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Department, the New Brighton Department of Public Safety and the police departments of Duluth, Edina, Hopkins, Lakeville, Minneapolis, Richfield and St. Cloud.
In addition to Anoka, the counties that ranked in the top eight in impaired driving-related deaths and serious injuries from 2011-13 were Dakota, Hennepin, Olmstead, Otter Tail, Ramsey, St. Louis and Stearns.