Austin’s police chief wants public’s ideas on DWI enforcement

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Among Austin’s biggest problems, according to the Austin Police Department: drunk and aggressive drivers.

That’s why Austin police are setting aside two hours Tuesday night to hear from the public during the Austin Traffic Safety Symposium at the Palmer Events Center.

So far this year between January and June, police have arrested 2,900 drivers on charges of DWI.

While that number is down 6.5 percent from the same time period last year, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo believes drivers are not choosing to take the longstanding advice to designate a sober driver, use public transportation or take a taxi home.

APD’s DWI Enforcement Team found in 2009 that 85 percent of the accidents that happen between midnight and 3 a.m. involved drivers who were under the influence of alcohol.

Tuesday night, the police chief wants to hear the public’s thoughts about ways to cut down on DWIs, and he plans to take the feedback directly to those who can make the changes.

“What we’re going to do is go back, take it all in, and circle back with our partners in the transportation department, public safety, police, EMS, fire emergency service providers and everyone who has a role in keeping Austin safe and seeing what are the takeaways,” said Acevedo. “What are we doing well, what can we do better, and at the end of the day how can we save lives.”

Earlier this year, Acevedo started a zero-tolerance policy in his own department — where anyone who is arrested on charges of DWI will be fired, even if the charges are dismissed.

But he said the department isn’t just battling drivers who choose to drink and get behind the wheel; officers are now being trained to spot prescription drug abusers.

“Abuse of prescription drugs is one of the fastest growing challenges for us in recognizing the signs and symptoms of being under the influence of drugs — whether it’s prescription or illegal — so we’re working on that now,” said Acevedo.

The Austin Traffic Safety Symposium took place at the Palmer Events Center on Tuesday.

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