Keeping the streets safe

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Wednesday, March 19
BENNINGTON — Dozens of motorists looked to their rearview mirrors Monday night to see the flashing, blue lights of local police. After being pulled over, most understood why and some wereeven pleased to have been stopped.

Others, unfortunately,were arrestedand brought to the police station for booking.

Local, county, state police

As local residents celebrated St. Patrick's Day Monday night, at least five police officers — from the Bennington Police Department, the Vermont State Police and a deputy with the Washington County Sheriff's Department — were busy participating in a "saturation patrol" to seek out people driving under the influence of alcohol.

"We know that on St. Patrick's Day it's not going to be dumb luck that finds us an impaired driver," saidLt.Paul Doucette of the BPD.

The patrols, often instituted on or around holidays, are intended to provide time for officers to look solely for impaired drivers on the roads. The program is funded through local, state and federal grants obtained mainly through the Governor's Highway Safety program, Doucette said.

A total of 74 vehicles were stopped Monday night in Bennington and North Bennington, Doucette said. Not a single person was found to be driving while impaired, though, which Doucette said was a credit to the efforts of law enforcement officials. He said the proportion of crashes involving alcohol has declined in Bennington County, according to Doucette.

"It is my opinion that our highway safety efforts are working. To encounter 74 vehicles and not find a single impaired operator is outstanding," he said.

During the saturation patrols officers look for motor vehicle violations or other problems that would allow for a traffic stop such as broken headlights or taillights or uninspected vehicles.

Some might say having police look for a reason to stop a vehicle is wrong. But Doucette and other law enforcement officials around the country disagree.

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"The goal of this program is not about traffic tickets. It's about education and impaired drivers," he said.

In fact, most of the drivers stopped Monday night were simply told of a broken light, to use their turn signal or given other reminders. Officers explained that they were looking for impaired drivers and the motorists were on their way.

A few, of course, were not as lucky.

Doucette ticketed one woman because her young child was not in a proper safety seat, and department procedure is to always issue a ticket for such a violation. Doucette offered the woman a free booster seat, which he helped her install at the police station.

Some motorists experienced tougher consequences. Police arrested three people for possession of marijuana, and four minors were charged with possession of alcohol.

A group of three minors traveling in a pickup were stopped for motor vehicle violation. But police soon saw containers of alcohol, which led to finding marijuana, smoking paraphernalia and more than $1,000 in cash. Two of the people in the truck were arrested and transported back to the station, where their photographs and fingerprints were captured with digital technology.

Later, just before midnight, four minors were traveling on Northside Drive when they were stopped. Three of the four minors were found to have been drinking after a roadside alcosensor tests was administered. The driver was found to be sober. One passenger was also arrested for possession of marijuana.

Bennington Police Sgt. Camillo Grande said police often look for specific things to identify impaired drivers. A motorist who forgets to use a turn signal or stops well into an intersection at a stop sign or red light is a good indication, he said. A swerving car could also be the result of an impaired driver, but it can be tricky to tell on Vermont roads, Grande said.

"We live in Vermont. We've got potholes everywhere. As a police officer you've got to use a bit of discretion," he said.

Grande said police try to cover all areas of town during the patrols to ensure the safety of all residents and prevent impaired motorists from avoiding police.

"I just travel all over the place. There isn't any specific place I hit. I've learned over the years that it doesn't matter where you hit. Eventually, people need to filter out of the commercial areas and go to the residential areas," he said.


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