A program to catch drunken drivers may have done the world one better, in the opinion of local law enforcement agencies.
With plenty of advance notice that a dedicated task force of officers would be on the sharp lookout, only a small percentage of traffic stops Wednesday night and into Thursday morning yielded OWI arrests.
Police officers would like to believe that in part, that was because of the highly publicized effort to make drivers aware they were being watched – and that they behaved better as a result.
Wauwatosa fielded the largest contingent of tasked officers of any metro community, with seven patrols mainly looking for intoxicated drivers. But in 26 stops with some suspicion of drinking drivers, only one arrest was made, of a 33-year-old Milwaukee woman (below).
Throughout the area, only 16 OWI arrests were made in 214 stops.
"We certainly applaud all of those stopped who were not driving under the influence," said Brookfield Police Capt. Phil Horter, the media officer for the area-wide effort. "Voluntary compliance is what we are attempting to achieve. Our goal is to keep all of the motoring public safe, especially during the holiday season."
Twelve municipal police departments, including Milwaukee, and the State Patrol participated in the High-Visibility Enforcement OWI Task Force deployment Wednesday, and for the first time, the group did its best to let everyone know they were out there.
Streetside roll calls were held at high-traffic intersections at the start of the shift, with the western suburbs gathered at North Mayfair and Blue Mound roads. Media were invited to photograph and film, with the hope that rather than officers simply catching more drunken drivers, perhaps fewer people would dare to drive drunk.
With just a 7.5 percent arrest rate against contacts with suspicious drivers, it may have worked.
Task Force officers stay on the lookout for erratic driving or the kind of violations that may signal a driver is impaired, such as lane deviations and rolled stop lights. Wauwatosa officers, in their 26 stops, did issue 12 traffic tickets for driving infractions, but only one driver proved to show probable cause for an OWI arrest.
"With this being our first try at this strategy, I anticipated some bumps in the road, but everyone did a great job and really stepped up with great suggestions for future deployments," said Wauwatosa Police Lt. Tim Sharpee.
Sharpee didn't hesitate with advance notice on the next rounds for drivers to be aware of.
"Our next deployments will be on Dec. 15th and 31st," Sharpee said. "We are looking to do another street corner roll call for the Dec. 31st deployment."
Driver stopped for multiple infractions, arrested
In the Task Force's single Wauwatosa OWI arrest, a first offense, a 33-year-old Milwaukee woman was stopped at 11:19 p.m. Wednesday after a patrol officer saw her make a sudden unsignaled lane change and then clocked her at up to 20 mph over the speed limit on North Mayfair Road.
The officer reported that while he followed, the woman also repeatedly straddled lane markers and, after turning right onto Watertown Plank Road, "accelerated briskly away from me."
He pulled in behind her when she turned into the Milwaukee County Children's Court Center parking lot and questioned her. He said he immediately smelled alcohol when he spoke to her, and she needed to hold onto her car for balance while she tried to perform field sobriety tests.
She blew a .132 blood alcohol concentration on a preliminary breath test and later a .11 on an evidentiary test, despite claiming she'd had only one drink – or maybe one and a half.