By Susan Tebben
The Mahoning Valley OVI (operating vehicle impaired) Task Force is focusing on the positives as it goes into its second year conducting check points and traffic blitzes throughout the area.
“We’re keeping the roads safe and the reality is the majority of people don’t drink and drive,” said Scott Weamer, head of the task force and assistant chief of the Canfield Police Department.
The main goal of the task force, Weamer said, was to get citizens to make good decisions, not sneak up on them from a hidden spot. The task force distributes a press release before a traffic checkpoint or extra patrols are scheduled to be out to let people know the participants in the task force — from various local law-enforcement agencies with assistance from the Ohio State Highway Patrol — will be out.
“We want to be proactive, not reactive,” Weamer said. “The ironic thing is, if we are successful, we lose funding because the grants are based on the number of fatal crashes and other statistics like that.”
The traffic safety grants that the task force receives go to the areas where resources are most needed to stem the occurrence of fatal crashes, including those involving driving under the influence.
Through Sep. 30, 2012, which ended the fiscal year, the task force conducted 12 sobriety checkpoints, through which 6,840 vehicles passed. Of those, 33 people were arrested for OVI.
The grants have given the task force more room to conduct different kinds of checks. The newest method to the task force is the corridor blitz, when the officers choose one road and patrol it county line to county line. Most recently, they patrolled OH-224.
Saturation patrols and blitzes, are those in which officers pick a particular area and patrol it exclusively for four hours. Saturation patrols have made 1,506 stops with 44 OVI arrests, according to task-force statistics.
Other arrests, such as some for drug offenses, also have been made during the checkpoints and patrols, along with citations.
In comparison with the Mahoning Valley without the task force and the area with it, the statistics have shown a drop in the number of fatal accidents involving alcohol. For fiscal year 2011, when the task force had yet to be formed, the county had 25 fatal accidents, 11 of which were alcohol related. In fiscal 2012, 23 fatal accidents occurred, but only five were alcohol related, according to task-force statistics.
“That shows us that we are doing something right here,” Weamer said.
In the first quarter of fiscal 2013, Weamer said the task force is “on pace” with last year’s numbers, according to Weamer. The three checkpoints they’ve conducted this year have brought through 981 vehicles and resulted in eight OVI arrests.
“The summer months, when people are back on the roads more, will catch us up,” Weamer said.
The task force is planning two checkpoints per month during the summer, and should have some help with a trailer for equipment that Weamer says the task force is in the process of obtaining.