March 15, 2007

CUPD Ups Weekend Patrol

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If you are planning on drinking and driving this St. Patrick’s Day, think again. Cornell University Police announced that they will be out in full force on St. Patrick’s Day, arresting all drunk drivers — no excuses.

The Irish holiday falls on a Saturday this year, a matter that the CUPD said concerns law enforcement officials across the nation.

“We feel that because of the accidents that have occurred in the past on St. Patrick’s Day, the fact that it’s on Saturday will only make matters worse,” Sergeant Howard of the CUPD said.

“St. Patrick’s Day has become a big night out for many Americans — especially young adults,” Howard said.

Last year during spring break, Matt Pearlstone ’09 died on St. Patrick’s Day from alcohol poisoning while visiting the University of Virginia. His death generated uproar from the community, and the CUPD want to prevent such an occurrence from happening again.

“We don’t want to see headlines about the death of a Cornell student,” Howard said. “We hope you never have to print that headline again.”

This year, police from all over the country will be patrolling in order to ensure the safety of all those who are on the road.

“It’s part of a national mobilization. Police departments all over the country will be out there cracking down on drunk driving,” Howard said. “We’re not out there to make arrests, we’re out there to make the streets safer for those who walk, bike and or drive. Unfortunately, [arrests] are part of the learning process.”

The streets are not a safe place during the late hours of St. Patrick’s Day according to Michelle Barber, the Stop DWI coordinator for Tompkins Country.

“According to statistics, motorists on the road during St. Patty’s Day are 19 percent more likely to be killed in an alcohol related crash,” she said.

The CUPD released a flyer in an attempt to inform the Cornell community about the dangers of drinking and driving, particularly on this holiday.

“In 2005, 59 percent of all traffic fatalities that occurred during the evening of St. Patrick’s Day to the early hours of the following morning involved drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) of .01 and higher,” the flyer reads.

Barber is hoping that by reaching more of the community with these flyers there will be fewer accidents this year.

“People are more likely to drive sober if there’s public awareness about patrols,” Barber said.

The increased patrols do not affect only those driving impaired. All traffic offenses will be ticketed, with no exceptions.

“There will be zero tolerance for all traffic offenses,” Howard said. “We have a handout that the officers will be giving out to everyone who is stopped.”

Likewise, people are no safer on a motorcycle than they are in a sport utility vehicle, according to Cornell Police.

“No matter what you drive —a passenger car, pickup, sport utility vehicle or motorcycle — if you are caught driving impaired, you will be arrested,” the flyer reads.

This is the first year that the Cornell Police has done this sort of mass patrol to target drunk drivers on St. Patrick’s Day, according to Howard.

“We’re using [St. Patrick’s Day] as a focal point to point out to people that we will not tolerate driving while intoxicated,” Howard said. “We get funding form the county’s Stop DWI program, and we’re fielding extra patrols on random weekends just for this.”

The county’s greatest cause for concern is not the Cornell student population. According to Barber and Howard, the campus is often used as a path between different bars, thus making it necessary to heavily patrol the campus.

“Most people we arrest are not members of the Cornell community, but people just passing through,” Howard said.

The increased patrols should help maintain safe University roads. There have only been one or two alcohol-related crashes on campus in the last year, according to Howard.

“We have an award winning traffic safety program here and we want to keep it that way,” he said.

These measures should help keep all those who share the road safe, but ultimately the biggest responsibility lies with those who will be drinking this Saturday, according to Barber.

“We don’t want people to rely on the luck of the Irish — if they’re going to drink, we want them to be safe,” Barber said.