A word to drunken drivers in Galveston County this New Year’s Eve — law enforcement is out there and a relatively new program has made prosecuting DWI-related crimes more effective, officials said.
“Before, we had more dedicated DWI details and task forces,” Galveston police Capt. Joshua Schirard said. “We had to get all the logistics in order to do things like no refusal weekend. And officers needed more training. But the STRIKE program allows us to do that all the time, for far less cost.”
STRIKE stands for Safety Through Rapid Investigation of Key Evidence.
Police departments across the county, from Galveston to League City, plan to increase law enforcement presence to monitor for potentially drunken drivers over the holidays, officials said.
But rather than dedicate officers specifically to DWI patrols, officers can keep watch for all manner of holiday bad behavior through successful use of the program.
The program has increased the efficiency of DWI enforcement, enabling all officers on duty to make arrests, and cutting down on the amount of time it takes to do so, Schirard said.
The program enables police officers to telecommunicate with a judge via internet at the crime scene or traffic stop to submit sworn affidavits and obtain an intoxicated driver’s blood sample should someone refuse a breathalyzer test, officials said.
Officers then take the suspect to a medical facility where a blood sample can be obtained, officials said.
Now in its third year of existence, the program has proven successful when it comes to obtaining convictions in DWI crimes, Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady said.
Officials with the district attorney’s office took a snapshot of intoxication cases filed between January and March of this year, showing that judges issues 130 blood search warrants through the program, leading to 127 criminal cases, Roady said.
Of those, prosecutors have resolved 34 of the cases, with 31 of them resolved via conviction or pretrial diversion and only three dismissed, Roady said.
“Over the holidays, you definitely see an uptick in impaired drivers,” Schirard said. “And so we’ll definitely be out there looking for them and making sure the roads are safe. We aren’t out to ruin anyone’s holiday. The whole point is the overall safety of the roadway.”
New Year’s Eve is a particularly active time for area law enforcement as studies show people are two or three times more likely to die in alcohol-related crashes over Christmas and New Year’s than any other time, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
An average of 300 people die each year in drunk-driving accidents between Christmas and New Year’s Day, according to a 2017 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation. More than 780 people died in 2016 via drunk driving-related incidents in December alone.
During the 2015-16 Christmas season — Dec. 1 to Jan. 1 — there were 2,374 alcohol-related traffic crashes in Texas, resulting in 102 fatalities and 205 serious injuries, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
Galveston County has seen an average of 11 DWI-related arrests on New Year’s Eve each of the past three years, Roady said.