Baltimore Co. has list of drunken drivers

January 17, 1991|By Roger Twigg

Since 1986, some 14,500 people have been arrested for drunken driving in Baltimore County. Of those, 3,500 were arrested more than once, and of those, the Baltimore County police have culled the names of 39 who form an elite of sorts: all have been convicted of drunken driving three times or more in the last five years.

And now, the county police say, each time one of those 39 gets behind the wheel of a car, a police officer might be watching.

Since the first of the year, the police have begun a new repeat-offender program that will for the first time target the 39 people for periodic surveillance and to make sure that they adhere to court-ordered restrictions.

A special squad of 10 officers from the county's drunken-driving unit will be given the list of names -- a 40th name will soon be added, that of a man recently convicted of drunken driving for the ninth time -- and will be told to be on the look out for them.

The officers will drive by the repeat offenders' houses to see if the car is in the driveway. If it isn't, they will check taverns these people are known to frequent.

They will have the license tag numbers of the cars owned by the people on the list -- 25 of whom have had their driving privileges suspended or revoked. If those cars are spotted, the police will make sure the person driving is not on the list.

The officers will know which of the people on the list have alcohol restrictions placed on their driver's licenses, and if they are seen driving a car, the police may stop them and make sure the restriction is being followed.

And if one of them is again driving while under the influence, police will be ready with video cameras to record it all as evidence for the court.

"What they're doing is getting at the offender before the offender has an opportunity to get out on the road and do some harm," said Howard B. Merker, a deputy state's attorney for Baltimore County.

What the police will not be doing is following the people on the list constantly, or sitting outside their houses waiting for them to get into a car, or tailing them from work to see if they stop off at a tavern.

Asked if something like that would occur, county police spokesman E. Jay. Miller replied: "Of course not, this is still America."

In fact, the county consulted with the American Civil Liberties Union before beginning its new initiative against drunken driving.

"They wanted to see if I shared the same sentiments with them," said Stuart Comstock-Gay, an ACLU spokesman. "I don't think there is anything unconstitutional about it. The legality question arises in how it is conducted . . . are they going over the line."

Mr. Comstock-Gay said he has two areas of concern: that the surveillance not turn into harassment, and that the officers not go beyond the probationary guidelines or deadlines imposed by the courts.

"I don't think that is the intent [to harass], but the police by making themselves obvious -- following them into bathrooms and everywhere else they go -- could be harassing them," the ACLU spokesman said. "It could be fine for a year or so, then the police might slip away from the original thought."

He said the Washington and Montgomery county police departments have a similar program that targets people with specific criminal backgrounds.

Evelyn D. Armiger, a spokeswoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said she was "thrilled" to hear about the repeat-offender program -- apparently the first of its kind in this area.

Mrs. Armiger said she got involved in the M.A.D.D. program after a man with 20 drunken-driving convictions struck her car. The man, whose license was supposed to have been revoked, then drove himself to her court hearing, she said.

The county state's attorney's office and the state Division of Parole and Probation helped put the program together after a computer check showed that 3,500 of the 14,500 people arrested since 1986 for drunken-driving were repeat offenders, Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger said.

To reduce the list to a more workable level, the group decided to first target those who have been convicted at least three times of drunken driving, the police said.

Many others had multiple arrests for drunken driving, but police sorted them out to include only convictions.

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