DUI unit stays busy in Chugiak-Eagle River
In more than seven months on the road, the Anchorage Police Department’s specialized DUI Unit has stopped more than 100 intoxicated drivers in Chugiak-Eagle River, according to department data.
“And that’s probably an underrepresented number,” said APD Sgt. Ryan Rockom.
When you count cases recorded as vehicle collisions or REDDI (Report Every Dangerous Driver Immediately) calls, the number climbs higher. The stops usually cluster around the municipality’s main thoroughfares, the sergeant said.
Outside of the downtown hub, the Glenn Highway is one of Anchorage’s DUI hotspots.
“We’re catching a number of folks going back into Eagle River, going back to the Valley after celebrating in (Anchorage),” Rockom said.
The department’s impaired driving enforcement unit launched last August, funded by the Alaska Highway Safety Office with a $2 million-dollar perishable federal pass-through grant, Rockom said. After an initial selection process, the unit was staffed with six officers, tasked with handling “everything DUI,” from street-level enforcement to training of new recruits.
It’s no small task. According to numbers from the highway safety office, between 2003 and 2008, alcohol contributed to nearly 40 percent of Alaska traffic fatalities. In 2008, nearly 44 percent of traffic deaths were alcohol-related. Chugiak-Eagle River sees regular deadly DUI crashes: In 2015, 22-year-old automobile passenger Yong Lor was killed in a collision off the Old Glenn Highway. Earlier this month, driver Xeng Yang pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault in connection with the case. Yang previously pleaded guilty to DUI.
Across the municipality, the Anchorage Police Department responds to hundreds of DUI cases per year, statistics show.
Because the majority of those cases happen late at night and on weekends, the unit’s six officers work overnight Wednesday through Sunday, responding to calls from the Knik River interchange to well south of Potter Marsh. Though their work is targeted toward DUI enforcement, it often encompasses much more, according to the unit’s sergeant. In the course of their work, officers might be required to take in a warrant subject or help hold a perimeter.
“Sometimes we run out of bodies,” Rockom said.
If all goes well, processing a single DUI takes about an hour and a half, he said. If the driver refuses to cooperate, it can take longer. Drugs and warrants also lengthen the process.
On some nights, officers within the unit can process as many as four DUIs and more than a dozen citations per shift. The goal? To free up patrol officers to respond to other calls, Rockom said. While the DUI unit responds to REDDI calls, the officers often identify impaired drivers on their own, thanks to specialized training and a narrow mandate.
“We’re a very proactive unit,” the sergeant said.
Contact Star reporter Kirsten Swann at [email protected]