County police credit public awareness with decline in drunken driving arrests

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Drunken driving arrests in Harford County had a modest decline last year. The drop reflects greater public awareness and not less police enforcement, officials said.

"Enforcement efforts have been unrelenting," John Harkins, deputy chief of the Bel Air Police Department, said last week.

He said that DWI arrests within Bel Air's town limits dropped from 67 in 1993 to 34 last year, a 49 percent decline.

Countywide -- including figures from state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies -- drunken driving arrests declined 3.9 percent from 1993 to 1994. Overall, 1,208 people were arrested on drunken driving charges, compared with 1,258 in 1993.

Chief Harkins said the county liquor board has helped curtail drinking and driving by putting pressure on places that serve alcohol.

The establishments and their employees are being watched by the liquor board, so they are doing a better job of urging customers not to try to drive if they've had too much to drink, he said.

Bel Air's drop in DWI figures led the county, according to the statistics made available by state, county and municipal agencies patrolling Harford County.

DWI arrest figures from the Aberdeen Police Department in 1994 will not be made public until they are presented to the City Council later this week. But Capt. Ralph Perry, a spokesman for the Aberdeen agency, said drunken driving arrests there are down 29 percent.

"The joint effort [by police, liquor board and business owners] and grants providing the money for overtime, so we can set up alcohol checkpoint programs, all combines with more public awareness to help fight drunk driving," Captain Perry said.

Jim Newby of the Havre de Grace Police Department said DWI arrests fell from 140 in 1993 to 119 last year, a 15 percent decline.

DWI arrests by county sheriff's deputies declined by 6 percent, from 327 in 1993 to 307 in 1994.

State police at the John F. Kennedy barracks in Perryville reported a 3 percent decline, from 320 to 311, for the same time period. "Our figures also include arrests made in Cecil County," noted Lt. Raymond Grissett of the JFK barracks.

Drunken driving arrests made by troopers from the Bel Air barracks were the only figures in Harford that increased. They rose 8 percent, from 404 in 1993 to 437 last year.

Figures from the Harford County Sheriff's Office showed a modest drop, from 327 DWI arrests in 1993 to 307 in 1994.

Sgt. Wilson Knight of the sheriff's traffic division said education programs in the schools have helped cut the number of juveniles arrested on DWI charges.

"And the courts are slamming drunk drivers with stiffer fines and jail time, even for first offenders," he said. "It all helps."

Mothers and students battling against drunken driving in groups called MADD and SADD also deserve credit for their educational efforts, Sergeant Knight said.

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