More eyes on drunk drivers

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LOREN BENOIT/Press Idaho State Police Capt. John Kempf and other law enforcement agencies held a press conference Friday to announce the North Idaho DUI Task Force. Patrol units will be on the streets and highways for select events and for the St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

DUI Task Force dates

Here are the planned 2019 dates for the new North Idaho DUI Task Force to be in operation:

• St. Patrick's weekend, March 15-17

• Memorial Day weekend, May 23-27

• Car d'Lane, June 15-16

• Spirit Lake lawnmower races, June 16

• Fourth of July weekend, July 3-7

• Post Falls Days, July 12-14

• North Idaho State Fair, Aug. 21-25

• Harrison Regatta (dates to be determined)

• Scarywood, Oct. 18

• Halloween, Oct. 31-Nov. 2

• New Year's Eve, Dec. 27-28, 31

By BRIAN WALKER

Staff Writer

COEUR d'ALENE — DUI suspects, beware.

Law enforcement agencies throughout Kootenai County on Friday announced the North Idaho DUI Task Force, aimed at putting more patrol units on the street targeting impaired driving during selected events and holiday weekends.

The task force operations will vary from the former DUI emphasis patrols in that they will be deployed during large community events when drinking and driving has typically been a problem.

Task force members are also cross-deputized through a memorandum of understanding to patrol outside their usual jurisdictions.

"Magnets [with the task force logo] will be placed on vehicles so that if an officer in a Rathdrum Police vehicle makes a traffic stop on Sherman Avenue downtown, the reason is because they're a part of the DUI Task Force," said Idaho State Police Capt. John Kempf during a press conference on Friday at ISP's District 1 headquarters.

"It's important to us to form this task force because we don't have to look too far into the recent past to see whose lives this affects. This will allow us to have more officers on the street and not take away from areas they serve."

Kempf was referring to the crash last Saturday near Hayden that killed Ryan Allen, 38, Cocolalla. Alcohol was suspected to be a factor.

"These crashes take place in our community and it's frustrating to us in law enforcement because it's preventable," Kempf said. "We really want to enforce the DUI laws."

Agencies participating in the task force, which was deployed on Friday night for the first time for St. Patrick's Day weekend, will be ISP, Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls, the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office, Rathdrum and Spirit Lake.

Sheriff Ben Wolfinger referred to the multi-agency approach as a "force multiplier."

"The entire focus will be looking for drunk and impaired drivers," he said.

Officials from those agencies said funding for the program will come from grants from agencies such as the Office of Highway Safety and within their existing budgets. Task force operations will not be an added expense.

"This is part of the budgeted process," Wolfinger said.

Members assigned to the task force will be paid by their own agencies.

Other events and holiday weekends in which the task force will be deployed include: Memorial Day Weekend, Car d'Lane, Spirit Lake lawnmower races, Fourth of July, Post Falls Days, the North Idaho State Fair, Harrison Regatta, Scarywood, Halloween and New Year's Eve.

The rise in DUI arrests is alarming to police agencies.

There were 1,066 DUI arrests throughout Kootenai County in 2016 and about 1,200 in 2017, Kempf said. An increase is expected when results for 2018 are tallied.

ISP had 420 DUI arrests in District 1 in 2017 and 532 in 2018.

The task force is modeled after a similar group in Ada and Canyon counties.

Post Falls Police Chief Pat Knight said the North Idaho operation is more of a partnership through a memo of understanding than a group such as the multi-agency North Idaho Violent Crimes Task Force, which is continually working cases.

"It’s really just an MOU when an agency within Kootenai County is having a DUI emphasis and needs more staffing," Knight said. "The agencies involved in the MOU can dedicate staffing to assist. I really only see this group getting together a handful of times throughout the year."

Rathdrum Chief Tomi McLean said having extra patrols is another layer of protection for the citizens.

"This team will benefit the county as a whole, not just one individual city," she said.

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