Nassau police bringing back specialized DWI unit

Drunken driving arrests have fallen dramatically in Nassau County over the past three years, leading to concerns among some police and activists that too many intoxicated motorists are getting away with the crime. May 21, 2014 (Credit: Newsday Staff)

Nassau County -- where DWI arrests fell after a police enforcement team shut down -- is bringing back the specialized unit, officials said Thursday.

The decision comes a day after Newsday and News 12 Long Island reported that driving while intoxicated arrests took a steep drop after Nassau police eliminated the unit, which targeted DWI offenders. With the selective enforcement team, known as SET, on patrol, officers made an average of 2,641 DWI arrests from 2008 to 2011.

Since the unit shut down, Nassau DWI arrests have maintained a steady decline, from 1,853 in 2012 to 1,545 last year.


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Thursday, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice and County Executive Edward Mangano said in a statement that the 2014 version of the unit "re-establishes the Selective Enforcement Team while also utilizing the intelligence-led policing models" now at the center of the county's broader crime-fighting strategy. That includes focusing patrols in areas where drunken drivers were more likely, and increasing DWI checkpoints.

Officials said the reconstituted SET team and DWI program, collectively called the DWI Alcohol-Related Incident Team, will continue the strategy of finding DWI "hot spots." In addition, the unit will establish roving DWI checkpoints.

On Wednesday, acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter defended the closing of the unit in 2011 because he said it was not an effective tool in the department's DWI-enforcement strategy.

Krumpter said the proof of post-SET effectiveness could be found in a recent checkpoint over three nights, where just six out of 1,000 vehicles stopped led to DWI arrests. He said increased citizen compliance also led to the drop.

DWI fatalities -- any death attributable to drunken or drugged driving -- fell from 25 in 2011 and 2012 in Nassau to 24 last year. DWI crashes went from 611 in 2011 to 600 in 2012, the last year for which DWI crash data collected by New York State were available.

Critics of shuttering the unit three years ago, including James Carver, president of the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association, have said the samples of checkpoint and fatality statistics are too small to provide any accurate conclusions.

Bringing back the specialized unit is a sign that "clearly the county's gone back to the drawing board and is looking for ways to make our roads safer," said Marge Lee, president of the Franklin Square-based group Drive Educated Drive Informed Commit And Totally End Drunk Driving. "I'm very excited to hear the county's bringing back SET," Lee said.

Mangano and Rice said SET team members will also conduct thousands of patrol tours paid for with $1 million from police and prosecutors' asset forfeiture funds -- money seized in connection with criminal investigations.

Police said they will also give additional DWI enforcement training to new officers, acquire more breath testers, and add staff to its program aimed at detecting drugged drivers. Officers in the revamped DWI program have already begun making drunken driving arrests, according to police, while also targeting businesses that serve alcohol to underage and heavily intoxicated people.

"Nassau County's new DWI Alcohol-Related Incident Team, together with the re-established Selective Enforcement Team, will be targeting drunk drivers -- not just this Memorial Day weekend but all year round -- looking to prevent senseless alcohol-related accidents and locking up those who break the law," Mangano said in the statement.

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