Each year local police departments receive money from Ulster County to set up Stop DWI check points aimed at getting dangerous drivers off the road while bringing awareness to the dangers of drinking and operating a motor vehicle.
On March 14, starting at 11 p.m. and running until 3 a.m. the following morning, the Marlborough Police Department ran a DWI checkpoint at the northern edge of town at the intersection of Route 9W and Perkinsville Road. They received assistance from the Lloyd Police Department, The Ulster County Sheriff’s Office and the NYS Police.
Police Chief Gerald Cocozza said he tries to hold these events, “a few times a year depending on money available through the DWI grant.”
Cocozza said the grants are typically used for specific holidays; in this case just prior to St. Patrick’s Day. He said the county has a list of suggested holidays that the money may be allocated for; “you’re not mandated but you can...and it gives you a time-frame of a couple of days before and a couple of days after that you can use the specific funding.” He said his department received $1,000 for this detail that is used for salaries; “DWI pays time and a half, so it’s overtime.”
If a driver is suspected of having used alcohol, an officer uses visual and smell clues and may administer a field sobriety test.
“Usually because we have the devices, we’ll put you on the Alca check at the very end and the officer will make an educated decision that you’re abilities are impaired and they will place you in custody and then take you to the station to do what is called the data master test, which is a chemical analysis of your breath. Anything above .08% is considered DWI,” he said. If charged with a DWI they are given a ticket to go to court and their vehicle is impounded and a relative, friend or a taxi is called to come pick them up. In some instances, if a person is local, his department will drive them home.
Cocozza said several variables factor into when a person is considered legally drunk; “a person’s weight and size, their last meal and how often they drink and don’t drink. A habitual alcoholic may take 10 drinks to become drunk; their blood alcohol content may .08 and their ability by law is not to drive but they function very well at that level...It all depends on how one’s body processes the alcohol.”
Cocozza thought about canceling the event in light of the covid-19 virus but went ahead because people may turn to using alcohol to calm their anxiety; instead he found out from his men, “that it wasn’t a very productive detail” with one ticket issued. He suspects that people are heeding the covid-19 guidelines and are staying home.
“If we don’t get any drunks and we’ve checked 100 people, that’s good in our minds and people are not doing the wrong things,” he said.
Lloyd Police Chief James Janso said they also run sobriety checkpoints a few times a year, either on the south side of town or over toward the New Paltz border. He said they also have regular DWI patrols, “on weekends, on holidays or whenever we can.”
Janso said there are ebbs and flows on the number of DWIs they process, “but you can’t really pinpoint them. Sometimes during the nicer weather people are out but it goes in flows; sometimes it will be a busy month and the following month it will die down, so you can’t pinpoint certain days of the week or times; there’s no rhyme or reason pretty much.”
Janso said the checkpoints remind the public that his department is out in the community doing their job to prevent drunk driving.
“When you have a checkpoint and nobody comes through drunk that’s a good sign,” he said. “You’re not drinking and driving as much and taking designated drivers or staying at home...That means people are aware, so having none is a positive thing.”
Janso acknowledged that his department continues to do their job, despite covid-19.
“Unfortunately, we’re on the front lines and we don’t close and we’ll be out there doing our job and doing what we gotta do,” he said.
Janso said his department received $8,500 for this year to conduct these Stop DWI checkpoints, “and anything DWI related you can use it for.” He added that what money they do not use has to be returned to the county but the more Lloyd uses in a given year the more his department will receive the next year.
“Whatever you use this year and you produce and you ask for more next year and show the need for it, they’ll give it to you,” Janso said.
Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa said the Stop DWI program is run by a separate county agency with the overall goal of keeping all residents safe on the roadways.
Figueroa said personnel from his office were involved in the Marlborough stop, “because we all get funded by Stop DWI.” He said the trend today is that less people are drinking and driving because of the proliferation of Uber and Lyft to get a ride home.
“It’s relatively inexpensive compared to the thousands of dollars you’re going to pay if you get arrested for DWI, losing your license and getting a lawyer,” he said.