When Sergeant Jesse Wood, head of CMPD’s DWI Task Force, first deployed his six officers to Montford Drive in 2013, each had an arrest within the first hour.
Historically, Montford and its strip of popular drinking spots like Angry Ale’s, Jeff’s Bucket Shop and Brazwells, has been a hotspot for drunk driving. Thanks to Wood’s force and the use of strategically-placed checkpoints, that changed in about a year.
“Within a year, word had spread and only taxis and Ubers were on that street,” he said. This was a good thing. “Our goal is to put ourselves out of business.”
According to Wood, the city had around 1,500 DWI arrests in 2013. Last year, there were just about 700.
This follows the national trend, which, according to federal statistics, puts drunk driving arrests at a 13-year low.
The shift at home, Wood said, does come in part from ride-share apps like Uber, which launched in Charlotte in 2013 and is heavily used by younger generations.
But Uber, Lyft and taxis aren’t the only reason the numbers have gone down.
While the ride shares have had an impact, Wood takes into account the size and health of his small task force as well as people wising up to them.
“The first year, we were fully staffed but they almost killed themselves with the number of DWIs they were getting,” he said. “The amount of time spent in court was insane.”
Spending that much time in court will wreck a person’s sleep habits, he explained, and it shifts to an unhealthy lifestyle and mindset.
Still, the task force is deployed city-wide every Tuesday through Saturday and finds itself in high demand.
Most arrests come from pulling people over, but checkpoints help keep drunk driving at a minimum, Wood said.
But they also create a hard spot. When word gets around and people begin to understand and expect the pattern, it creates a pattern of its own: The traffic creates the need for a checkpoint, which leads to a decrease in traffic, which in turn makes the checkpoints unnecessary. That’s when the traffic does pick back up.
“We have to work a little harder to find impaired drivers,” Wood said, and that’s when they deploy to places that are known for impairment.
Just recently, they went back to Montford and within 45 minutes, all six of his officers had made arrests.
The DWI Task Force will never put itself out of business, regardless of how hard it tries, and it knows this.
“There are still people that do it,” Wood explained, citing repeat offenders that, despite having their license taken away, can’t or won’t stop. “Unfortunately, it takes getting arrested to get the message out.”
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