Police take to the highways and waterways

Drunken motorists, boaters are the targets as agencies gear up for the long Memorial Day weekend


Among the many rites of summer that are being renewed this holiday weekend, police across Maryland plan increased patrols in an effort to clamp down on drunken driving and boating.

"Most folks will be off on holiday, but we are working," said Sgt. Thornnie O. Rouse, spokesman for the Maryland State Police. "People often tell us that they are paying our salaries. We are just showing them they are getting their money's worth."

Stepping up patrols on Maryland waterways, the state Department of Natural Resources has canceled leave for its 280-member police force who are involved in "Operation Osprey" this weekend.

"It's all hands on deck and aggressive patrolling of the waterways looking for reckless and negligent boat operators," said Sgt. Ken Turner, spokesman for the DNR Police. "There will be many boats out and a great potential for accidents, especially from operators under the influence."

Officers on the water will be "swamping" -- an acronym for "safe waterways alcohol monitoring patrols" -- reckless boaters. Turner expects his officers will make a lot of arrests, he said.

"The highways are bad enough, but at least there are lines painted and signs telling you where to go," Turner said. "On the water, there is nothing and no way to operate if you are impaired."

On the roads, sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols -- where officers fan out and patrol problem areas -- will be the techniques of choice for local law enforcers.

"Saturation patrols are dispersed, able to cover more ground, instead of concentrating on one point," said Rouse. "They are deployed in areas where there are statistically a high number of alcohol-related accidents."

Good weather brings more people out and compounds problems for police, Rouse said. Forecasts for this weekend call for mostly clear skies and warm weather throughout the region.

"We don't mind you celebrating, but don't put four wheels under your celebration," Rouse said.

Police will stop every car at a checkpoint, typically set up at a busy intersection prone to accidents. The state police barracks in North East started the weekend operation early with two checkpoints Thursday evening. Even though the locations were published in local newspapers, officers in Cecil County made five DWI arrests and charged three other motorists with driving under the influence of drugs.

"We wanted to see if drivers were jump-starting summer, and from the arrests it looks like they were," said Sgt. Robert Kerner.

Troopers were planning to set up a checkpoint on Liberty Road in Eldersburg from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. last night.

"As soon as we break that down, every officer will go on saturation patrol on the side streets looking for drivers trying to avoid the checkpoint," said Lt. Dean Richardson, commander of the state police barracks in Westminster. "With the state of electronic communication today, everybody in the bars knows we have a checkpoint within an hour."

State police have conducted checkpoints since 1981 and began saturation patrols several years later. About 160 state troopers were set to pull extra duty this weekend and many will participate in saturation patrols.

Predictably, troopers take a lot of grief from motorists they pull over at the checkpoints, Rouse said.

"We get no satisfaction out of this other than we have pulled you from the road before you hurt yourself or someone else," he said.

State police made 193 alcohol-related arrests during the extended holiday weekend last summer -- about a one-third increase from a typical summer weekend -- and handled 400 accidents.


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