A collaborative effort by East End law enforcement agencies led to a spike in DWI-related arrests this summer, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, and he said the new patrol unit responsible for the increase soon will strengthen its watch over local waterways, too.
During a press conference outside U.S. Coast Guard Station Shinnecock in Hampton Bays on Friday, Mr. Spota said the Suffolk County East End DWI Task Force, which was created in May and includes 14 local law enforcement agencies, would continue to hold sobriety checkpoints and patrols on designated weekends throughout the fall and winter. In addition, officers from the various departments—which include East Hampton and Southampton town police—would be working to curtail incidents of boating while intoxicated on East End waters.
“We have to be more aggressive—as aggressive as we are on the land, we should be on the water,” Mr. Spota said.
The task force made a total of 196 arrests between Memorial Day and Labor Day this year for offenses such as DWI, driving while ability is impaired by drugs or alcohol, possession of illegal substances, and driving without a license. Though Mr. Spota did not have last year’s numbers readily available, he said it was a high number of arrests, and he attributed that to the creation of the task force, which allows officers to make arrests outside their jurisdiction.
The weekend of July 21—not a holiday weekend—resulted in the greatest number of arrests on any given weekend this summer, according to Mr. Spota. He said that 43 people were arrested over that weekend; by comparison, 24 people were arrested over Memorial Day weekend and 20 people over Labor Day weekend.
Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Mr. Spota, did not return calls this week seeking information on the number of arrests made last summer across the East End.
Still, local law enforcement agencies agree that the initiative was a successful one.
“The numbers have shown that it works, and, honestly, I applaud the district attorney for his assistance in this venture,” said Westhampton Beach Police Chief Raymond Dean. “I think it was very successful.”
Chief Dean said his department committed two officers to the initiative, but he plans to double that next year.
Quogue Village Police Chief Robert Coughlan agreed that the task force was a success, and added that he is supportive of the new efforts targeting boating while intoxicated. “We had a difficult year on the waterways,” he said.
Law enforcement officers on the East End also made three arrests—two in Shelter Island and one in East Hampton Town—for boating while intoxicated this summer. Mr. Spota pointed to a boating accident in the Great South Bay on June 23 that killed a West Islip father and led to a charge of boating while intoxicated as evidence that the task force should extend its efforts to the water.
Mr. Spota said that while the task force focused its efforts on land this summer, all officers—even those without boats—would be assigned to patrols and checkpoints in the waterways next summer. Though the new water initiative had only been discussed in recent weeks and the details were still being developed, Mr. Spota said that officers would use the same strategies employed on land.
“There is very little that you can do or say to a mother whose daughter died in a violent death because of a drunk driver,” Mr. Spota said. “There’s no question about it. Every time they make an arrest, they are potentially saving someone’s life.”
The district attorney’s office contributes $80,000 to the task force, and the other $30,000 comes from a combination of state grants and fines collected from DWI-related arrests that are funneled through the Suffolk County STOP-DWI program, according to Mr. Spota.
“The residents of the East End will not be paying a nickel for this particular effort,” he added.