This summer marked the busiest season for drunken driving arrests across the North Fork in five years, according to reports from Southold and Riverhead police departments.
From June through August of this year, Southold police reported 42 drunken driving arrests, an increase from the 28 incidents reported the year before, according to police. While nine drunken driving arrests were reported in August, 7 were documented in July and 16 in June.
This summer was the busiest in Southold Town since 2008, when 44 incidents occurred, according to the report.
Riverhead police also saw a jump in arrests, with 70 reported incidents of people driving under the influence of alcohol within the town, nearly double last year’s summer total of 41 incidents, according to that department.
August was the busiest month this summer in Riverhead, the reports show, with 27 arrests. There were 26 arrests in July and 17 in June.
As was the case in Southold, this summer’s Riverhead DWI arrests were the most reported since 2008, when 78 were reported in Riverhead. Until this year, the numbers had steadily decreased, according to the reports.
But both Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley and Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said the higher arrest numbers don’t necessarily mean there are more cases of people driving drunk across the region but that police are doing a better job of catching offenders.
Chief Flatley said patrols and checkpoints on the part of the East End DWI Task Force’s inaugural year helped Southold Town police by providing more manpower for checkpoints. The task force allowed the department to target high-traffic weekends for greater enforcement without causing congestion on the roads.
“Up to this point, we tried to do DWI checkpoints but it takes a lot of officers,” Chief Flatley said. “It’s very difficult to pull something like that off on our own.”
The task force, run by the office of Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, includes officers from East End town and village police departments, as well as state and county police and DA officials. The task force was formed in the spring and began operations on the North and South Forks on Memorial Day weekend.
The East End police departments involved in the task force worked in one another’s jurisdictions at checkpoints and patrols on scheduled weekends to crack down on drunk drivers in the five East End towns.
Locally, a task force patrol in Riverhead in June netted 11 drunken driving arrests, with another six people arrested at a July checkpoint in Southold, police said.
The task force will continue operations into the fall and will focus on reducing boating while intoxicated in local waters next year as well, authorities said.
Chief Flatley believes the dip in numbers over the last few years until this summer was because his department had fewer officers to devote to patrols. For most of this summer the department operated with 46 officers, and that number dropped due to injuries.
Chief Hegermiller agreed that the task force played a role in the increased number of arrests.
“[There were] a lot of extra eyes on the roads,” he said of this past summer. “There were nights when you had more than half a dozen cars out there.”
Chief Hegermiller thanked the DA’s office for being “the glue that holds it all together.”
“It was a great effort,” he said.
While Chief Flatley credited some of the increased DWI arrests to the extra manpower from the task force, he also said more motorists are using Bluetooth cell phones to report drunk drivers.
The department has seen an increase in the number of 911 calls from the road in the past few years, he said.
“Realistically that’s where a lot of DWI [reports] are coming from,” Chief Flatley said.
Local community groups agreed that awareness and enforcement seemed to be increasing.
“There is more of an awareness and there is more of a vigilance about it,” said Felicia Scocozza, executive director of the Riverhead Community Awareness Program (CAP).
Ms. Scocozza said her organization works with the Riverhead department to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving.
CAP normally hosts a program in the spring to teach 10th-graders not to drink and drive, but the program’s funding through the county was cut this year, she said.
“It was a very effective program, [the students] really showed an increased awareness,” Ms. Scocozza said.
See the infographic below for more details: