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Fourth of July is no holiday for police

Drunk DrivingHighway and Road DisastersNew Year's DayInner HarborSt. Patrick's Day

As many prepare for Fourth of July cookouts or head to the Shore, law enforcement agencies across the state are beefing up patrols — to monitor large crowds at fireworks celebrations and ramp up DUI enforcement.

Officers plan to be out in force on Friday at the Inner Harbor, where crowds congregate for fireworks, and throughout the region in what police say is one of their busiest days of the year.

"We're working really hard to ensure that this is the best Fourth of July celebration that we've had in the history of Baltimore," said Col. Darryl DeSousa, the city's chief of patrol.

More than 200,000 visitors pack the Inner Harbor for the annual festivities. In 2011, a tourist was stabbed to death with a broken bottle on Pier 6, and a 4-year-old was injured by celebratory gunfire.

DeSousa said revelers will notice officers on foot and in cars, boats and helicopters. He said plainclothes officers will be mixing into crowds, looking for potential disruptions.

"We did cancel leave this year. All the districts are up to full staff. All districts are going to be doing certain initiatives that are specific to crime in that district," DeSousa said.

In Baltimore County, Chief James W. Johnson said most of the department will be working at the festivities from Dundalk to Catonsville.

"You expect it with all the fireworks, all the displays, all the parades, leave is canceled. That's the way it is," Johnson said. He said that he, too, will be working at various events around the county.

Johnson said officers expect more calls on the Fourth than on an ordinary weekday. With the amount of alcohol that is consumed, police say, the holiday can be as busy as St. Patrick's Day and New Year's Eve.

Police around the region are warning drivers not to drink and drive. Departments are planning to add DUI patrols and checkpoints.

"We are here to prevent DUI traffic-related collisions," said Maj. Clifford Hughes, a commander of field operations for Maryland State Police.

State police said this week that they have used past crash data to target specific areas and arrest more than 1,000 impaired drivers.

State police said 856 people were killed and 20,000 injured from crashes involving impaired drivers in Maryland over the past five years.

But in the last year, they say, there has been a 13 percent decrease in alcohol-related crashes. They credit the targeted DUI patrols.

State police Trooper John Sollon is one of the officers who will be looking for drunken drivers.

"A lot of people who are impaired love to speed," he said. "I have had people pass me in a marked vehicle at 100 miles an hour."

Police in Baltimore plan to hand out fliers discouraging lewd or discourteous behavior. Similar materials have been distributed at the Preakness, on New Year's Eve and at other major events over the last year.

Capt. Therman Reed of the Baltimore sheriff's office said a team of deputies will be deployed after the fireworks "just to keep the flow moving out of the downtown area."

"We noticed that over the years the crowd tends to move north of the harbor when the festivities come to an end," he said.

Officials also warned against celebratory gunfire. A Cecil County girl died in 2012 after she was struck during a New Year's Eve celebration. A 17-year-old Baltimore girl was injured last Fourth of July when her great-grandfather fired a celebratory round.

And officials warned against setting off illegal fireworks.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/janders5

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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