Police prepare for busy Monday

Nathan Domenighini
Kiss Me: I am a designated driver.

Last year, six people in Illinois died in alcohol-related car accidents on St. Patrick’s Day alone, Morton police officer Sean Darche said.

March 17, the “greenest” day of the year, has been tabbed as a major drinking holiday, not only by jolly drinkers, but by IDOT as well.

Now, local law enforcement is making an effort to educate the public about driving risks during the holiday.

Darche is making his own effort to raise awareness. This week, he will distribute “Kiss Me: I am a designated driver” pins to local taverns, he said.

The nine-year Morton officer said he is really sincere about driver safety.

“It can be scary,” Darche said of St. Patrick’s Day. “You have a lot of amateur drinkers who don’t know their limits.”

He also said some drinkers begin consumption as early as 8 a.m. and continue all day long.

This year, Morton police will patrol heavily to ensure drunk drivers are staying off the roads.

The effort is part of a holiday mobilization mini-grant provided by IDOT.

Similar grants are issued to various departments throughout Illinois during major drinking holidays, such as Cinco de Mayo, Super Bowl Sunday and Independence Day.

Mini-grants have played a major role in the police department’s alcohol enforcement.

Last year, the department received a $25,000 grant to increase patrols by using hirebacks, or additional staffing hours for patrol. Along with that, the department was able to purchase cameras for squad cars and “The Sniffer,” a flashlight that detects alcohol.

Since receiving the grant, the mentality among officers has changed, Darche said.

“The guys have been very receptive to it,” he said.

Not only has the grant helped police focus on drivers under the influence, but, “There has been a carry-over effect,” Darche said.

He said other officers have become more concerned and alert for drunk drivers.

Darche said officers are really hoping to change the mentality among local drivers.

He said some intoxicated individuals make the decision to drive because they are only a block from home.

“That mindset is what we’re really trying to change,” he said.

In Morton, DUIs are commonly issued on the interstates, Darche said.

However, arrests from recent alcohol-focused patrols show that all the DUIs, except for one, were issued within town, he said.

“There is still a high concentration of drivers in town that are intoxicated,” he added.

Residents in smaller towns are somewhat limited in receiving a safe form of transportation, since there are no local taxi businesses.

Darche, realizing this, said officers do what they can to provide intoxicated individuals with proper transportation.

“We try to work with people the best we can in giving them transportation,” he said. “Some taxi cab companies (in Peoria) are available for a fair price.”

As people pursue green beer Monday night, he offered a bit of advice.

“Plan your night and have a sober driver lined up,” he said.

To encourage people to be designated drivers, he also suggested that taverns offer incentives for those who choose the sober route.

Incentives could include a free soft drink or appetizer.

“We’ll see if we can get some cooperation,” Darche said.

Darche said some have the notion police increase patrols to satisfy quotas or increase revenue.

For Morton, that is not the case, he said.

“You have got to believe in what you’re doing when you’re standing out in 15 degree weather,” he said. “(Police) are not out there to collect a paycheck.”

With Tazewell County on the list of 23 counties labeled by IDOT as “high-risk” for traffic-related fatalities, the department does not want to take any chances — particularly when children are involved, Darche said.

“A lot of kids are dying in the county,” he said. “We felt like we needed to jump on board and do more.”

“When you’re dealing with kids, its a different story,” Darche said. “It may not directly affect us, but we feel a responsibility as a police officer.”