Sitka police to try vouchers to curb holiday DUIs

The three drunk driving arrests in as many days last weekend prompted Sitka Police Lt. Lance Ewers to start thinking about whether the town could start being more proactive about the problem.

“In the true spirit of community-oriented policing we want to be proactive, not reactive,” he said. “Reactive is arresting them for drinking and driving – every day this weekend someone was arrested. And there were multiple others. What we want to do is come up with a way to enlist community support.”

To that end, Ewers is proposing a program over the holiday season in which bartenders would give out $20 vouchers provided by the Police Department for taxi rides home. He said he believes the program would work well here, because bartenders already on occasion will offer to pay a patron’s taxi bill.

Ewers said he has had a good reception so far from the bars, and the taxi companies, for the $20 voucher idea.

Ewers said a recent hit-and-run accident caused by a drunk driver, which injured a pedestrian, further illustrates the need to address the problem.

“This would be an effort to curb that,” he said.

Ewers said he wanted to try out the program during the holidays, when there are more get-togethers, celebrations and people returning home for Christmas.

“It’s a super natural time to be celebratory, you have time off work, time with friends,” he said. “But when you have alcohol, you have a diminished ability to make decisions that could result in lifetime consequences. We just don’t want anyone drinking and driving – it’s detrimental to our community.”

He said he and other officers suggest that residents do some “pre-event planning” so they’re not faced with the temptation of driving home after drinking.

Ewers hopes that the voucher program will at least increase awareness and discourage people from driving after consuming alcohol.

“Maybe we’re becoming a little complacent with a laissez-faire approach to drinking and driving,” he said. “I want to revisit how detrimental it is.”

Not only do those convicted of drunk driving face steep fines, loss of licenses and orders for alcohol treatment, but they put others in danger, he added. Penalties for first offenses include three days in jail, a $1,500 fine and 90-day revocation.

“It is not safe to drink and drive,” Ewers said. “We’re not just talking about crashing and hurting yourself, but injuring others. … If we’re arresting someone every day, citizens need to pull together and work on this problem. We need community support and rally against drunk driving.”

Police Chief Sheldon Schmitt said the department has done this in the past for a New Year’s Eve weekend and it was well-received. He said he likes the idea of spreading the offer out for a longer period of time.

“It’s been a positive thing in the past, and we want to try it again,” he said.

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