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HPD top department in state for DUI arrests

BY ANNA DURRETT / REPORTER

The Huntsville Police Department had the most arrests out of any department for driving under the influence in the state in 2010, according to a report by the Alabama Department of Forensic Science. The department made a total of 989 arrests in 2010.

“I credit it to our proactive approach,” said special operations Lt. Mark McMurray of the Huntsville Police Department. “Huntsville Police Department has been proactive in that 24 years ago we developed a task force just for the purpose of education and then enforcing DUI and public safety laws.”

The Auburn Police Department had 473 DUI arrests, the second highest number in the state. In addition to Huntsville, North Alabama departments with relatively high numbers of DUI arrests include the Decatur Police Department, 421; Athens Police Department, 237; Limestone County Sheriff’s Office, 173; Madison County Sheriff’s Office, 148; and Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, 145.

The Huntsville Police Department has seven officers who focus the bulk of their time on drunk drivers. “A lot of cities don’t have the man power to dedicate six or seven officers to do nothing but arrest drunk drivers,” McMurray said. The officers also help out with crowd control during special occasions such as outdoor festivals, marathon races in downtown Huntsville and large events at the Von Braun Center.

Officers outside the DUI unit can call the specialists to the scene when they suspect drunk driving, and then those officers can return to their normal patrol. Prosecution of a DUI case can also be turned over to the DUI unit, which gives the other officers more time to devote their services elsewhere. McMurray said DUI prosecution in recent years has become easier due to audio and video recordings of every arrest.

McMurray analyzes traffic data to determine where in Huntsville the DUI unit should concentrate their efforts. “They drive around specific areas where crashes are occurring,” said McMurray.

The Huntsville Police Department receives $80,000 in grant money yearly from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration through the North Alabama Highway Safety Office. The money is allocated to the enforcement of DUI laws.

The money specifically must be used for paying officers to work overtime, not on other expenses such as purchasing equipment. “It has to be boots on the ground, officers out enforcing traffic laws,” McMurray said. He also said the money can pay for officers to keep the public informed and speak to the media.

Twenty fatalities occurred from traffic accidents in Huntsville in 2011, and the primary contributing circumstance for four of the fatalities was alcohol three being inside automobiles and one being a pedestrian.

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