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South Washington County Sheriff's Office receives grant for new DWI officer

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety has awarded the Washington County Sheriff's Office a grant to fund the salary and benefits for an additional officer focused on reducing impaired driving.

The grant of $111,816.97 runs for one year, with a renewal contingent on the Sheriff's Office meeting criteria and available resources at the DPS, said Mike Hanson, director of the Office of Traffic Safety within the DPS. The officer will focus on patrolling for impaired driving during the high call volume times of 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. In addition, the officer is required to attend educational training on eliminating impaired driving and will have community outreach responsibilities.

"Many of the agencies across the state, their staffing levels tend to be fairly lean. As a result, those days and times when impaired driving is a real problem, a lot of times those agencies and officers are busy going from call to call, and they don't have the ability to focus on traffic enforcement," Hanson said.

The grant comes from the DWI Officer Program, which the DPS Office of Traffic Safety started in 2016 with funding for 12 officers across several counties. This year, the DPS is funding 15 positions through the grant in several counties — all of which fall within the top 13 deadliest counties for impaired driving, Hanson said.

Hanson said the DPS prioritized awarding grants to counties that ranked among the highest in the state for impaired driving incidents.

Washington County ranks sixth statewide for impaired driving incidents based on data from 2012-16. In those five years, the county saw 13 deaths and 41 suspected serious injuries related to impaired driving, and 4,984 total impaired driving cases.

In addition, Hanson said, the grant committee judged applications based on each law enforcement agency's track record for reducing these numbers.

"Washington County Sheriff's Office has always been right there, willing to step up and do the extra things that have always distinguished them as very committed to keeping their roadways safe," he said.

Washington County Sheriff Dan Starry said that aside from the high number of incidents in the area, residents' concerns also were a key reason to apply for the grant. In a 2016 resident survey conducted by the Sheriff's Office, impaired driving was one of the most common safety concerns, he said.

"Our motoring public gets busy and busier as the population grows. And so for us, we want to stay on top of it," said Starry, who also sits on the Minnesota DWI Task Force.

Since the program began in 2016, officers funded by the DWI Officer Program have accounted for more than 41,000 traffic stops and 2,400 impaired driving arrests, Hanson said.

Hanson said he thinks reducing these numbers is a "product of planning ahead."

"Make sure you have that ride, make sure you have that place to stay," he said. "If people just make that plan ahead, we can eliminate those tragedies tomorrow ... We've made a lot of progress, but we're seeing over 25,000 Minnesotans arrested every year for an impaired driving offense."