Law enforcement to step up patrols for holiday
By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter
The Lincoln County Sheriff's Office and Libby Police Department will have extra patrols out for the New Year's holiday.
Police will concentrate on areas where there are high numbers of drunken driving crashes and arrests. Grant money to pay overtime wages will make it possible.
The sheriff's department expects to have three to four officers on patrol from Friday through Monday, said Lt. Roby Bowe.
"Normally on the weekend, we have three to four officers from the city and county," Bowe said. "This weekend we'll probably have three to four of our own."
Libby police will have one extra guy working New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, said Chief Clay Coker.
"We got some money through a grant for overtime," Coker said. "I'll have someone come in on their day off to work an extra shift."
Libby police in 2005 had 40 drunken driving arrests compared to 22 for 2006 as of Wednesday.
The Montana Department of Transportation funds the extra patrols through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Jim Lynch, director of the MDOT, has placed a high priority on the reduction of alcohol-related crash fatalities in the state. Last year 229 died and 1,623 were seriously injured in Montana's 2,182 alcohol-related crashes.
"Highly visible law enforcement is our best defense," Lynch said. "We're committed to showing there are consequences for driving under the influence."
Deputies will also strictly enforce the state's seat belt laws.
"Seat belt use tends to be much lower among vehicle occupants who are under the influence of alcohol. Everyone is at a greater risk of injury or death if they are not buckled up," Lynch said.
The effort is part of a Selective Traffic Enforcement Program established to detect and deter violators to improve traffic safety.
"We are working the extra hours because we know it can save lives," said Sgt. Roger Guches with the sheriff's office. "This is our local contribution to the state and national crackdown to reduce highway deaths."
The sheriff's office in 2005 issued 205 alcohol-related driving offenses, Bowe added. As of Wednesday, it has issued 208 in 2006.
Statistics also show that in 2005 there were 47 alcohol-related crashes in Lincoln County, with 50 injuries and two deaths.
New Year's Eve isn't always a busy night for police.
"When we went from 1999 to 2000, I beefed up patrols and nothing happened," Coker said. "Every year it's different. Last year we had several arrests at a house party that got out of hand and some years we had nothing."