Los Angeles police are expected to announce today a citywide initiative to curb the number of habitual drunk drivers by monitoring their activities, reports the Los Angeles Times. A newly organized Habitual DUI Offender Taskforce will target anyone with three convictions for driving under the influence within seven years, said Douglas Gerst of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Valley Traffic Division.
The program expands a two-man operation that Gerst began in December with the city attorney’s office in Van Nuys. In coming months, the program will begin in the LAPD’s three other traffic divisions. Through Van Nuys court records going back to 2002, Gerst’s team identified more than 750 habitual drunk drivers, said Rick Schmidt, a city prosecutor.
The team, which is supplemented by motor officers who help with surveillance, has focused on 35 high-risk cases; about half of the drivers involved have been rearrested for probation violations. “Our goal is to arrest them before they crash,” Gerst said.
Those arrested for misdemeanor offenses have been getting about nine months of jail time; the felonies are being processed. “I’ve always been frustrated with these people who have so many DUI convictions and are still out on probation,” Gerst said. “I would say the majority of these people are in violation of their probation every day because they know they are not being watched.”
“Well, they think they are not being watched,” said Sgt. Dave Ferry, the other half of the traffic task force. “All that changed in December.” In 2002, alcohol-related traffic crashes across the country caused an average of one death every half an hour, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Annually, about 40 percent of California’s traffic deaths since 1998 have been caused by alcohol.