County's new DUI task force unveiled

Daily American Staff Writer
Thursday, August 31, 2006 1:52 AM EDT

Somerset County's 18 municipal police departments have been invited in conjunction with the state police to team up for the first Somerset County DUI Task Force. State and local officials are scheduled to unveil the task force to the public at 10 a.m. Friday on the county courthouse steps in Somerset.

Chief Cox

At a media event Friday in the Somerset County Office Building's rotunda, Somerset Borough police Chief Randy Cox explained that Somerset County DUI Task Force members will operate checkpoints regionally, using more than a dozen local officers to work the checkpoints. ( Staff photo by Judy D.J. Ellich) Saturday, September 2, 2006

Somerset Borough Police Department made the DUI task force a reality when the department applied for and was awarded a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation DUI Task Force Grant for approximately $37,800, according to borough police Chief Randy Cox. As project director, Cox will monitor and administer the money from the grant. About 25 percent of the grant will be used for equipment needed at stationary sobriety checkpoints, with the remainder used for salaries for the officers involved, he said.

Police officers at the checkpoints will be from the municipal police departments that patrol that area. The grant also allows for roving
DUI patrols, he said.

“This is a significant step toward dealing with the DUI problem,” Cox said. “The pitfall with DUIs is we tend to deal with it through isolated incidents by an arrest. This way we can deal with it as a community.”

For a year, county municipal police and state police have worked on “an informal basis” to conduct sobriety checkpoints as visual deterrents to stop people from getting behind the wheel after drinking alcohol. But more needed to be done. Now with the grant money, more sobriety checkpoints can be conducted, as well as roving or “saturation” patrols. State police will still be involved. The difference is the funding source, local officials said.

County DUI prevention education coordinator Mary Ann Bowman is especially excited about the task force receiving 25 portable breath testers from the Pennsylvania Driving Under the Influence Association Friday so each of the county's police departments can have the tool on hand. “The portable breath testers are valuable tools to be used in the fight against DUIs,” she said. “However, they are expensive and could cost around $500 each.”

The breath testers help determine when a driver should be taken to a hospital for a blood test. The testers' results can not be used in court, except for juveniles, she said. A demonstration of the portable breath testers will be conducted at the unveiling if requested. The association is a nonprofit professional organization that helps state officials in their fight against drunken driving, explained Catherine Tress, liaison for the association's western area. The association is the only one of its kind in the country, she added.

In 2004, Somerset County had 447 DUI arrests. It was ranked the county with the second highest average blood-alcohol level for the state. Out of the 1,025 crashes in the county last year, 142 were alcohol-related and eight of 13 fatal accidents involved alcohol. In 2003, 17 of the 24 crash fatalities involved alcohol, according to a media release.

“This is all about saving lives,” Bowman said.

In case of rain, the event will be held in the Somerset County Office Building rotunda, 300 N. Center Ave., Somerset.

(Judy D.J. Ellich can be contacted at

Officials forming DUI Task Force

The Tribune-Democrat

The figures are numbing.

The average blood-alcohol level for drunken drivers in Somerset County is the second-highest in Pennsylvania, contributing to nearly two-thirds of all traffic fatalities on county highways, authorities say.

Looking to crack down on the habitual problem, law enforcement and community activists are banding together to form the county’s first DUI Task Force.

The task force will be unveiled at 10 a.m. Friday at the courthouse, officials said. The county’s 18 municipal police departments will form the task force, working in conjunction with the state police once a one-year alcohol enforcement grant is in place this fall.

“The figures speak for themselves,” said Somerset Borough police Chief Randy Cox, project director for the task force. “What we’re attempting to do is to stop looking at DUIs and other alcohol-related cases as individual, tragic incidents. We’re treating it as a problem that is facing the entire community of Somerset County.”

In 2004, the latest year statistics are available, 142 of 1,025 crashes in the county involved alcohol, including eight of 13 fatalities. The previous year, alcohol played a role in 17 of 24 traffic fatalities in the county. While borough police have been working informally with the state police to conduct DUI checkpoints, Cox said more needs to be done.

The $37,558 grant from PennDOT will pay for equipment and salaries for eight sobriety checkpoints and intense roving patrols, Cox said.

Municipal police officers from the parts of the county where the checkpoints or patrols are taking place will handle the efforts in their back yard. Officers from Somerset, for instance, won’t be called upon to travel to Windber or Confluence.

“This is going to be conducted in all areas of the county,” Cox said.

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