Last month the Okaloosa County Unified DUI Task Force was formed with the goal of preventing impaired driving and keeping roads safe.
The task force — made up of 11 local law enforcement agencies, including the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Highway Patrol, Fish and Wildlife Service, and police departments — is a first of its kind in the local area, said OCSO Capt. Mark Raiche.
Alongside media campaigns and pushing out educational materials, the task force chose six dates with a higher frequency of impaired drivers on which to focus their efforts. Dec. 4 was chosen in conjunction with the Department of Transportation’s “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign, which was followed by New Year’s Eve. On the task force’s Facebook page, it was reported there were no serious injuries nor fatalities in Okaloosa County on that holiday. There were four DUI arrests and 27 speeding citations.
The other dates the task force will focus on are Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 2) St. Patrick’s Day, (March 17), Cinco de Mayo, (May 5), and the Saturday during Memorial Day Weekend (May 23).
Raiche said the goal is not to arrest people, but discourage them from drinking and driving in the first place.
“If we can go with not being able to find an impaired driver on the highway and they're not having a DUI crash, that's a win — that's a great thing,” said Raiche. “So we're partnering education and enforcement but we’re announcing the enforcement so that everybody knows and hopefully it’s a deterrent to try to reduce the incidence of impaired driving and the crashes and fatalities that are a result of impaired driving.”
According to the Florida Department of Transportation, Okaloosa County ranks eight out of the 16 counties that make up District 3.
“We’re in the middle of the range, but that means that there's counties that are doing a better job of preventing impaired driving and there are counties that are doing a worse job so we want to be 16, which is being the very best place. We would love to have no impaired driving arrest or crashes, which is not realistic but that's the goal.”
The buy-in from other agencies allows the task force to be effective no matter where you’re driving in Okaloosa County, whether it’s a county road or in city limits, or even on base.
“This was a top-down commitment from every agency,” said Raiche. “It was the chief executives in every agency got involved and supported it. And so far, it’s running pretty smoothly.”
Of course, during peak season, law enforcement is bombarded with a growing population of tourists, which Raice acknowledged. But drunk driving is not a seasonal problem.
“Certain times of the year, it is more likely for us to encounter impaired drivers,” he said. “But this affects all socioeconomic classes, from underage high school kid that's partying and trying to drive home, to a 70-year-old retiree and everyone in between.”
Outside of those six dates, the task force is working to reach through public outreach.
“We want to make it known, ‘Hey, this isn’t the county to do that,’” Raiche said. “The deputy over there, he's a full-time DUI officer; that's what he does — he goes and looks for impaired drivers. If he can’t find anybody, I'm a happy district commander.”