Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series looking at the impact of impaired drivers on the Kenai Peninsula.
Around the holidays, the Kenai Peninsula sees an increase in people, as do the bars, and in return police see an increase in the number of DUI arrests. In response to the increased volume of bar patrons, local police enforcement has "DUI blitzes," which puts extra officers on patrol searching specifically for drunk drivers.
The current blitz started Saturday and will continue through New Year's Eve, said officer Jay Sjogren of the Kenai Police Department.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration designates a certain number of overtime hours, which it pays for, to police departments throughout the state. While on patrol during NHTSA's DUI blitz overtime hours, the police officers on duty specifically look for impaired drivers, Sjogren said.
For the current blitz, NHTSA has designated 10 extra hours for Kenai police. Sjogren said NHTSA also has blitzes to crackdown on seat belt violations.
Police officers sign up for the extra hours on a volunteer basis.
"There's almost always someone that steps up to the plate," Sjogren said. "Most everybody recognizes the importance of having an extra officer or two on the road."
Sjogren acts as the Law Enforcement Liaison for Southcentral Alaska. As one of four liasons in the state, Sjogren passes on information from the Alaska Highway Safety Office in Juneau, which works with NHTSA, to the Kenai, Soldotna, Seward and Kodiak police departments as well as to the Alaska State Troopers E detachment in Soldotna.
Because NHTSA and AHSO are not law enforcement agencies, they need people like Sjogren to act as a communication bridge with local police departments. NHSTA's and AHSO's main goals are to save lives, prevent injuries and reduce economic costs.
Sjogren said most of his DUI arrests are of people ages 40 and above, though he has arrested people of all ages.
"I don't think anybody goes out there intentionally going, 'I'm going to get drunk and drive tonight," he said. "They're not a bad person, they make poor decisions."
The bars, too, are doing their part to prevent their customers from drinking and driving.
Owner of the Duck Inn in Soldotna, Lela Rosin, said her bartenders make the determination and call a cab if they see someone has had too much to drink. The Duck also has monthly bar meetings to discuss DUI prevention, she said.
Rosin is a member of Alaska's division of the Cabaret Hotel Restaurant and Retailers Association, which keeps her informed of new laws concerning alcohol and tobacco, both nationally and locally.
All employees of the Duck Inn must complete their Techniques of Alcohol Management training within 30 days of being hired, Rosin said.
False identification, clinical effects of alcohol, customer disturbances and alcohol management are some of the topics covered during TAMS training.
"We think that is really important," Rosin said. "We take (drinking and driving) very seriously."
Mike Henry, manager of Four-O-Six Family Sports Caf┐┐ in Kenai, said his employees, too, must have a TAMS card. According to Lt. Kim Wannamaker of the KPD, TAMS training for employees is popular with most businesses that sell alcohol.
Henry said he has a strict policy of cutting off people once they've had enough to drink.
He said several times he's paid for the cab himself or put the intoxicated person in a hotel room for the night.
"We really try and be proactive to keep them off of the road," Henry said.
Bartenders can be held criminally liable for serving alcohol to an intoxicated person, Wannamaker said. Bars can also be held liable if they allow a drunken person to remain on the premises of a licensed establishment.
According to the statute, "A licensee, an agent, or employee may refuse to sell, give, or serve alcoholic beverages to a person if the licensee, agent, or employee reasonably believes that the consumption of alcohol by that person may result in serious harm to that person or to others."
Calling a cab for an intoxicated person is one of the first actions taken by Pat Komon-Poole, owner of the Albatross on Kalifornsky Beach Road. She also said she has clients that do not drink who have given others a ride if they need one.
"We certainly do not encourage somebody who's had too much to drink to go out and drive on their own," she said. "We try to keep them off the streets so everybody's safe."
Mike Nesper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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