News - Sheriff to beef up DUI training

Herald Tribune- by Todd Ruger

SARASOTA COUNTY - The Sheriff's Office is mandating additional DUI enforcement training for its patrol deputies in response to a sharp drop in drunken driving arrests in the past four years.

Maj. Steve Burns said Friday that patrol deputies need to be more involved in DUI enforcement, since budget constraints mean the agency has fewer deputies in a night traffic unit that makes the bulk of DUI arrests.

"We need to try to pick up some of the slack and everybody needs to be involved in it," Burns said.

Sheriff's officials say they do not have the budget to add deputies to the night traffic unit without hurting patrols for other crimes and emergencies.

In an e-mail to commanders this month, Burns stated that the practice of having only traffic unit deputies making DUI arrests was "irresponsible and will not be tolerated."

DUI cases are time consuming, drain overtime budgets and can pull a patrol deputy from the beat for hours.

Defense attorneys who specialize in traffic and DUI cases say deputies who are not focusing on DUI enforcement are more likely to tell drivers to call a taxi or a friend to drive them home instead of going through with the arrest.

"What we don't want to do is risk the possibility a DUI driver is not going to be arrested because there is not a DUI deputy available," Burns said. "That's not an option."

The Sheriff's Office made more DUI arrests in 2008 than in 2007. But the agency still had one of the biggest drops in DUI arrests in the state since 2004.

The executive director of MADD Florida visited then-Sheriff Bill Balkwill to talk about Sarasota's rapid decline in DUI enforcement.

While all the deputies learned how to investigate drunken driving cases during initial training, the cases are technical and defended vigorously, Burns said.

"If they haven't made DUI arrests periodically then they may be a little less than confident about doing it, and that's what we're trying to address," he said.

DUI deputies will still take over drunken driving investigations from patrol deputies when they are available, because they are more experienced in making the complicated cases, Burns said.

The 36 hours of training includes standard field sobriety testing and reviewing all policing forms, but also will review current laws and rulings on DUI cases and trends in enforcement.

Burns sent the e-mail two days after Sheriff Tom Knight, a former Florida Highway Patrol commander, took office this month, but the training had been planned before Knight took office.