More than $600,000 in state traffic enforcement grants have been awarded recently to Petaluma police for a range of operations, including Sonoma County’s Avoid the 13 anti-DUI Task Force.

Here are quick looks at each grant:

–The biggest is $300,000 for a variety of traffic safety crackdowns by Petaluma police. About half of it allows the city to keep a traffic unit officer by covering his salary and benefits, said Sgt. Ken Savano, who oversees the traffic unit. That officer will carry out most of the enforcement operations and the rest of the grant will go to various costs, including some overtime for other officers participating in special enforcement operations, Savano said.

Among the activities the grant will allow are training officers to catch DUI and drugged drivers, anti-DUI patrols, other anti-DUI operations and crackdowns on motorcycle, seat belt, child safety seat, red light, stop sign, distracted driving and speed violations. In addition, Savano said, the grant will allow officers to target traffic violators at collision-prone intersections.

–A $34,850 grant for DUI checkpoints in Petaluma. Savano said police plan four throughout the year.

–A $280,000 grant for the Avoid the 13, which includes the county’s 13 police agencies and which is being coordinated by Savano for the fifth year in a row.

The Avoid the 13 targets various holidays/celebrations each year, such as Halloweens, Super Bowl Sunday, St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo, but its focus is on four, high DUI-risk periods: Memorial Day weekend, July 4th weekend, the two weeks leading up to Labor Day and the last two weeks of the year covering Christmas and New Year’s.

Last year, the Avoid the 13, which operated on a $300,000 grant, reported:

–A 19 percent drop in injury collisions involving alcohol during the enforcement periods.

–A total of 390 DUI suspects arrested during the periods.

–9 DUI/license checkpoints held in the county, resulting in 13 DUI arrests after 10,934 drivers were screened as they passed through and 151 were given field sobriety tests. (This year, Savano says that because of the smaller grant, only a total of 4 checkpoints will be held — one for each of the four high-risk periods.)

–83 roving patrols that stopped 758 drivers and arrested 37 on DUI charges.

–20 warrant service operations resulting in 44 arrests.

–2 court sting operations targeting drivers who appear in court and then drive away after their licenses have been revoked or suspended — 9 arrests.

–Creation of countywide habitual DUI offender database.

Just about every time we report on an upcoming DUI checkpoint, readers write in questioning the value of checkpoint.

In reply, Savano says studies have shown that checkpoints “provide the greatest deterrent” for drunken driving and that for every $1 spent on a checkpoint, it prevents $6 in costs resulting from DUI crashes, such as damage and medical, not to mention saving lives.

For an independent look at checkpoints, we contacted Costa Mesa Police Chief  Tom Gazsi, who last year revamped his department’s anti-DUI efforts after his department’s staffing was cut.

The Los Angeles Times last year reported Gazsi had reduced the number of checkpoints planned for the city — it went from about 20 to 10 — and went with saturation patrols to target and arrest DUI suspects because the patrols require much fewer officers as checkpoints and are more effective in catching violators.

But in an interview last week with us, Gazsi said he would not have cut checkpoints if he had the staff.

Checkpoints send “a very, very strong message” to the public that drunken driving is not acceptable and that if you drive drunk, you’re going to get arrested, he said. The educational value “is huge.”

All three grants to Petaluma police were awarded for one year, starting Oct. 1, and were from the state Office of Traffic Safety through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


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