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Mike Nowatzki, Published December 31 2009

F-M DUI numbers decline: Police will boost patrols tonight

Fargo and Moorhead appear headed for fewer DUI arrests this year, and their police departments plan to boost patrols tonight to keep it that way.

Fargo plans to have an unspecified number of extra officers working New Year’s Eve, specifically assigned to removing alcohol- and drug-impaired drivers from roadways, Sgt. Mark Lykken said.

Moorhead also will have at least one overtime officer on duty, Lt. Tory Jacobson said.

Both cities are on track for lower DUI totals this year than in recent years.

As of Wednesday, Fargo had logged 824 DUI arrests this year, compared to 894 in all of 2008, 1,034 in 2007 and 1,110 in 2006.

Moorhead police had 224 DUI arrests as of Wednesday. The city tallied 315 arrests last year, 405 in 2007 and 424 in 2006.

West Fargo had 162 DUI arrests as of Wednesday, compared to 179 in all of 2008.

Police believe extra educational and enforcement efforts contribute to lower DUI rates, Jacobson said.

“But, realistically, the factor that we’ve seen that makes a difference is truly how many officers we can allocate toward enforcement,” he said.

In other words, a lower DUI total doesn’t necessarily mean fewer drunken drivers; there just may be fewer police to catch them.

“If we’re running with four cars in the whole city and we have two calls going, you know, two domestics or anything like that, there’s nobody looking for drunks,” Jacobson said.

Years with high numbers of DUI arrests in Moorhead, such as the 479 busts in 2004 and 478 in 2005, reflect additional grant funding that paid for extra patrols targeting drunken driving, he said.

While New Year’s Eve is a big night for partying, police say it typically doesn’t produce more DUIs.

Revelers usually think ahead and make plans for designated drivers or other travel arrangements, West Fargo Assistant Police Chief Mike Reitan said. His city will have the normal number of patrol officers on duty tonight. Grant funding was spent on an enforcement blitz earlier this quarter, he said.

“We’ll still probably make an arrest or two, but it’s certainly not a night that people aren’t aware that law enforcement is out there,” Reitan said.

Last year, there were eight DUI arrests on New Year’s Eve in Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo and Dilworth, down from 15 the previous year.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol stated in a news release Wednesday that during the past 30 years, the state has made it through

60 percent of New Year’s holiday seasons without a traffic fatality, compared with 37 percent of Christmas holidays, 30 percent of Memorial Day holidays and 27 percent of Thanksgiving and July 4th holidays.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528