DeForest Police Say OWI Patrols Are Working

A small Dane County community is seeing big results from a once-controversial approach to curbing drunken driving.

On a chilly Thursday night in November 2008, DeForest police set out to reverse a trend with a new way to try to stop drunken driving.

“Instead of just going out and looking for drunk drivers, we advertise,” said Lt. Dan Furseth from the DeForest Police Department. “We let the public know this is what we’re doing.”

During the special patrols, officers wear highly visible vests and display big signs informing drivers that they’re watching for traffic violations. When they see a violation, police stop the driver and then check for sobriety. According to data, the dozen or so times DeForest has done this patrol has made a lasting impact.

In 2008, DeForest police arrested 122 people on charges of operating while intoxicated. Since implementing their high visibility patrols, the numbers have dropped every year. Last year, 75 were arrested — a 39 percent drop.

Furseth said he believes a culture change has started happening in the community.

“It’s a big smile on my face because that means people are being educated,” Furseth said.

Advocates like Maureen Busalacchi from Health First Wisconsin said more communities need to take note of what DeForest is doing.

“They have changed some of the social norms around that, and I think that’s great,” Busalacchi said.

Busalacchi said other communities are doing good things as well, such as increasing age compliance checks and encouraging strict alcohol policies in school athletic programs.

She said those programs, and the patrols DeForest police are doing, are a small piece of a much bigger puzzle.

“We need to clamp down so that we have a safe alcohol environment,” Busalacchi said. “We also need to raise the price. It’s the affordability and accessibility of alcohol that drives people to binge drink and to abuse alcohol.”

DeForest police said they’ve tried to partner with other communities in Dane County to expand the patrols, but they’ve been unsuccessful thus far. They still hope to try to branch out this year.

Furseth said his goal for this year is a 50 percent reduction in OWI arrests.