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Austin Police Adding to DWI Enforcement Unit

Miguel Gutierrez Jr for KUT News

Austin has seen a rise in traffic fatalities this year, with nearly double the number of deaths so far in 2015 as occurred during the same period last year. Many of the crashes have involved impaired driving, and the Austin Police Department is stepping up their enforcement in response.

For the last 17 years, the Austin Police Department has used a dedicated DWI enforcement team of a dozen police officers to go after drunk drivers. They help patrol officers respond to DWI arrests and do blood alcohol tests, but the department hasn’t staffed the unit seven days a week. 

Right now, the unit only works Tuesday through Saturday, even though DWI fatality crashes occur every night of the week, especially on Sundays. Of the nearly fifty traffic fatalities so far this year, 18 occurred on Sunday and Monday. 

“We have so many drunk drivers out there,” says Art Fortune, Commander of APD’s Highway Enforcement division. “If we don’t have specialists out there seven days a week, with a city our size with the fatalities we’ve had? I felt that was the more important need, to put those officers out there, and help out the patrol officers.”

Recently, Fortune re-assigned a team that helps responds to crashes, the seven-member Night Highway Response Team, to the DWI enforcement team. That will allow APD to have a full-time DWI enforcement team seven days a week, and free up more time for patrol officers to respond to other calls. “They can get that paperwork done a lot faster,” he says. “They’re more efficient with it because this is something they specialize in.”

“We're finding a lot of these [crashes and incidents] are truly Sunday into Monday morning,” he says. “A lot of people, you know, it’s Sunday night. They go out, whether they’re watching the football games on Sunday … sometimes [for some] people that’s their weekend.”

Current protocol allows officers on overtime to fill in the gaps on Sunday and Mondays (funded by grants), but with a full-time DWI enforcement team on duty seven days a week that will no longer be necessary. The new addition to the DWI enforcement team is currently training and will join the team full-time July 12th.