Mayor Calls Dui Patrols A ‘Damper' On Nightlife

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Last Saturday night was the second multi-agency DUI Saturation Detail -- also known as Wolf Pack.

The Department of Public Safety (DPS) obtained a grant from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety that pays for overtime for officers from DPS, the Gila County Sheriff's Office (GCSO) and the Payson Police Department to patrol the streets and highways in numbers on selected nights, looking for people driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

"We had four DUI arrests last Saturday night," DPS Sgt. John Whetten said. "The next dates for the details in the Payson area are Dec. 20, 26 and 31."

The participating agencies want the public to know about the DUI Saturation Details. Many residents became aware of Wolf Pack when a Payson police officer was recently injured while on DUI detail. Officer Chad Deschaff will have to undergo at least one knee surgery after he swerved to avoid a driver who failed to yield at a stop sign and hit a retaining wall. DPS, who investigated the accident, said they believe alcohol was a factor.

"We welcome the publicity," Whetten said. "I notified several restaurants in the area that we would be doing these details. There are a lot of Christmas parties going on and that's why we target weekends in December. We like to make it public so that you won't even think of driving after you've attended a party and been drinking."

Payson Mayor Ken Murphy is opposed to the town's participation in the DUI Saturation Details and stated his position at a recent Corporate Strategic Plan meeting.

"(The police department) should've run it by the council first," Murphy said. "What bothers me about this Wolf Pack thing is this: we go into the holidays, we want people to shop in Payson, have Christmas parties -- we want people to come here to our town and the first thing we kick off the holiday season with is Wolf Pack.

"Why aren't we putting out a message of education -- drive safe, have a designated driver, drive responsibly, use our (police) volunteers to get people home after they've had too much to drink.

"I think when we do things like that, we are cutting our own throats. We always use the stick first. They should come to (the council) first and get some other ideas."

Councilor Judy Buettner responded.

"I certainly don't want Payson to be a place where drunks are free to roam," she said.

"I have never said we shouldn't enforce (the law)," Murphy told the Roundup. "I just think on high profile operations like Wolf Pack, that the council and the town manager should have input.

"It puts a damper on anyone going out and having a glass of wine," he said. "If everyone is pulled over and everybody is at risk for whatever, people just aren't going to bother to go out and do anything.

"My feeling is that we spend a lot of money on overtime with a big stick method of enforcement," Murphy said. "When you suggest it you sound like a heathen because people say how could we do anything different than to throw everybody in jail."

"The state is paying for the DUI Saturation Details, not the citizens of Gila County," Gila County Sheriff's Sgt. Craig Smith said. "These are officers that are working overtime, not officers that are using part of their 40-hour shift and taking away from law enforcement. They are working for overtime because they care about their communities and they don't want impaired drivers out there."

"DPS got the money from the DUI Abatement Fund through the Governor's Office of Highway Safety and that money is paid for by fines that are generated by people convicted of DUIs," Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner said.

"If our department was the coordinating agency and the funding source, we would need to run it by the council," Gartner said. "We are one of the participating agencies. If we needed permission from the council, I don't know where we'd draw the line because we work with other agencies on a lot of different activities, including DUI details."

Smith said the DUI Saturation Details are nothing new and not unique to Payson.

"They happen all over the state and the nation this time of year," Smith said. "It doesn't deter tourists, it deters everyone from driving under the influence."

"Do we want tourists around here who are bad drivers, putting our families at risk?" Gila County Sheriff's Lt. Adam Shepherd said. "I would have to say ‘no.'"

"A safe community is also a tourist attraction," Gartner said. "Nobody wants to get run over by a drunk driver. Nobody wants to have to worry what side of the road someone is driving on because they've been drinking too much. I think it's a component of tourism."

Officers on DUI Saturation Detail are solely on the road to look for impaired drivers and must have reasonable suspicion to pull someone over and probable cause to make an arrest, Whetten said.

"If you suspect someone of driving under the influence, you can pull them over," Whetten said. "Then probable cause must be developed to make an arrest."

"The goal is to put a lot of officers in a certain area that do not have the responsibility of responding to calls for service," Gartner said. "They make legitimate, lawful traffic stops looking for DUI drivers."

"We are not just out there, pulling over every car we see," Smith said. "We have to have probable cause under the Arizona Revised Statutes. We check for signs of impairment, the smell of alcohol, slurred speech -- if they are not impaired, they are released."

"I think everyone understands the dangers of driving impaired. There is no reason why someone should not understand the consequences -- there is no excuse anymore," Gartner said.

Yet, according to Gartner, from January to October of this year, 171 people were arrested by the police department in Payson for driving under the influence.

"Every holiday, we talk about being responsible and hosting parties responsibly," Gartner said. "We don't back down on DUI enforcement. We think it's a critical component of public safety. DUIs account for millions of dollars in losses of property and the loss of life in this state is about 450 people a year."

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