New OWI task force spans Dane County

Six different towns help crack down on drunk driving

A new initiative called the Capital Area OWI Task Force has Dane County officers from six different towns helping each other crack down on drunk driving.

It involves officers from Cottage Grove, DeForest, McFarland, Stoughton, and Verona, all traveling to different municipalities to offer up extra patrols.

The program started Friday night in DeForest. About 10 officers were on duty, pulling people over for traffic violations, and paying special attention to possible OWIs.

Lt. Daniel Furseth with DeForest Police set up bright pink signage, warning drivers of the task force presence.

“It makes a statement,” Furseth said about the increased enforcement.

Through September, departments participating in the task force will lend an officer to another force. The focus is on drunk drivers, trying to keep streets across Dane County safe and sober.

“Nobody has that kind of resources, so everybody spares one,” Furseth explained. “We can go to each community and make a big impact.”

Furseth says OWI arrests in DeForest have gone down 30 percent since they started a “high visibility” approach three years ago. Bar-goers in the area say this kind of patrol might be taking things too far.

Neil Winger, who lives in DeForest, said, “We’re losing our freedom, and my right to make my decision, and I don’t drive when I’ve been drinking.”

Winger says even though he drinks responsibly, he’s not comfortable being behind the wheel with this kind of presence on the roads.

“You’re almost afraid to drive home,” Winger mentioned.

Winger added, “One day, it won’t just be for drunken driving. It’ll be for everything.”

Dane County steps up OWI patrols

Furseth says similar joint efforts have made a difference in other states and counties in the region, and he thinks the arrest rate can only improve with the number of OWIs around the area.

“Enforcement is one tool,” Furseth said, “but it isn’t the only tool.  Education and awareness (are others).”