KEMAH

The Kemah Police Department is on a mission to stop drunk drivers before they commit felonies.

Several local bar owners and the police department have teamed up in recent months to combat drunk driving by communicating about patrons’ state of inebriation and working to get them into taxis and Ubers instead of driving on the road, Police Chief Chris Reed said.

“If one of my officers pulls over a guy for a DWI, they’re dealing with that for two or three hours,” Reed said. “And that makes a difference in one person’s life. But if they can discourage 20 or 30 people from drinking and driving, that’s a big difference.”

The effort, which first started about a year ago and developed into its current form about six months ago, has been enormously successful for both police and bar owners, said Harry White, who owns Voodoo Hut on Bradford Avenue in Kemah.

“We’ll notice someone is intoxicated and walk them up to the bar to pay and then offer them a cab or an Uber,” White said. “For the most part, they’ll take that.”

White wanted Voodoo Hut to be a place where people felt safe, and so when he first opened the bar more than a year ago, he emphasized security, he said.

The initiative began when White’s security team, which includes eight bouncers on the weekends, started communicating with police officers in the field via walkie talkies, Reed said.

Since that initial decision, the measure has evolved into a citywide effort to stop people from driving drunk, Reed said.

Officers now work with bar owners to train staff on how to handle unruly patrons and what to look for to spot fake IDs, White said.

Bar staff also write incident reports and keep a book of fake IDs they share with officers, White said.

“It’s like a neighborhood watch, but in an entertainment area,” Reed said.

The different bars also communicate with one another so that someone doesn’t get kicked out of one place only to move onto another, White said.

“Prevention is the big thing,” Reed said. “We had only two public intoxication arrests all weekend. Those could have been DWIs. We try to nip it off as early as we can.”

The initiative might not stop people entirely from drinking and driving, but the goal is to minimize the problems, Reed said.

About 20 people attended the first in what are planned to be quarterly meetings between bar owners and Reed about improving communication methods, White said.

“It’s great having everyone on the same page,” Reed said.

Bar owners also hope by spotting and convincing people to turn over fake IDs, they can reduce underage drinking, White said.

“We’re hoping to weed out a lot of that,” White said.

Officers tell inebriated people they’ll patrol parking lots to keep cars left overnight safe if they’ll take Ubers home, Reed said.

The initiative has been so successful, officials now hope to secure grants to buy more equipment and training, Reed said.

If there’s any downfall to the initiative, it’s proving statistically the benefits it gives, Reed said.

“It’s difficult to quantify prevention,” Reed said. “But common sense says it works. And we’re getting positive feedback from residents and bar owners.”

Matt deGrood: 409-683-5230; matt.degrood@galvnews.com

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(1) comment

Gary Scoggin

Great program. Hats off for making it work.

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