Cops on Patrol For New Year’s

WHEELING – Law enforcement agencies in West Virginia and Ohio are ready to start their New Year’s Eve patrol today, but local department heads said the holiday has been relatively quiet in recent years.

Wheeling Police Chief Robert Matheny said the Friendly City sees a large influx of people in the downtown area each Dec. 31, but the new year traditionally arrives without many incidents. Police will employ an extra cruiser during the evening, however.

“What we see is people that aren’t used to going out. New Year’s Eve is the night to go out, and they overdo it and get carried away,” Matheny said.

He noted the department makes an effort to be tolerant during special events such as the New Year’s holiday, taking the celebratory atmosphere into consideration. Those who have had too much to drink and are causing a public disturbance, however, will be taken into police custody.

Matheny encouraged those who choose to drink alcohol to do so responsibly and refrain from driving. He added that officers would assist any individual in finding a taxi.

“We’d rather help them than catch them behind the wheel,” he said.

According to West Virginia State Police, the total number of DUI arrests statewide has gradually decreased from 6,841 in 2008 to 6,574 in 2009 and 6,112 last year.

“Every time I work a DUI checkpoint, invariably, someone comments, ‘Trooper I hope you catch a drunk driver this evening,'” said West Virginia State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous. “I always respond that I hope we don’t, because I hope that the general public is finally realizing the dangers associated with driving under the influence.”

Ohio County Sheriff Pat Butler believes more local party-goers are ringing in the new year responsibly.

“The last several years it’s been fairly quiet,” he recalled. “I think people are going to private parties and getting designated drivers; it’s the smart thing to do.”

For anyone who would choose to take their chances with drinking and driving, Butler continued, his department will have a full complement of deputies on patrol – all of whom are aware of the signs of impaired driving.

Martins Ferry Police Chief John McFarland said New Year’s Eve recently has been incident-free in his city as well.

“The last couple of years have been extremely quiet,” he said.

McFarland added his department will have at least five cruisers patrolling the city tonight and Sunday morning, compared to three cars on most weekends.

“With any holiday weekend, law enforcement patrols spike up,” McFarland noted, “but hopefully everyone’s intelligent enough to not get behind the wheel. Always have a designated driver.”

In Ohio, roadway fatalities increased to 1,080 last year from a record low of 1,022 in 2009, and 39 people died in 2010 in alcohol-related crashes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

“The holidays can be one of the most dangerous times of the year due to an increase in impaired driving,” said Lt. Jeff LaRoche, commander of the Ohio State Highway Patrol St. Clairsville Post.

In Ohio, the public can call 877-772-8765 to report dangerous or impaired drivers, as well as stranded motorists.