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State Patrol gets grant to aid in impaired-driving cases

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

State law enforcement officials are hopeful a new batch of funds will allow them to continue their efforts to crack down on drunk driving on Georgia roads.

The Georgia State Patrol (GSP) has received $725,000 in a recent grant from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety. The money will be used for the GSP's Nighthawks and Administrative License Suspension (ALS) programs.

According to agency spokesman, Gordy Wright, the money is a necessity in order to equip staff members with the tools they need to do their jobs effectively, and to protect the public.

"The Nighthawks are a group of 10 troopers who have specialized training to spot impaired drivers," said Wright. "They generally patrol metro Atlanta during peak times for DUIs. The money goes for equipment and communications charges, as well as funding for attending ongoing seminars for additional training."

Much of the money will be used in Fulton, Cobb, Clayton, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, where Wright said impaired driving is more prevalent. Still, he added that the grant could have a residual effect in Henry and Clayton counties, by enabling troopers to prevent impaired drivers from ever getting to the area.

"The goal is to intercept those drivers before they cause a fatal crash or a crash with serious injury," said Wright.

A written statement issued by the GSP Friday, detailed the vital nature of the Nighthawks to the agency's overall operation. The Nighthawks Task Force was recognized in 2005 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police as the best DUI enforcement unit in North America.

"The troopers have arrested 679 people for driving under the influence, so far this year," the release said. "Last year, the team made 1,054 DUI arrests."

Under the state's ALS program, suspected DUI violators can file a petition in an effort to keep their licenses, for the duration of court proceedings against them.

The ALS portion of the grant money will reportedly fund expenses for an attorney with the GSP, who deals exclusively with cases involving drivers alleged to be under the influence of alcohol.

Wright said the funds from the Governor's office will enable law enforcement to have a voice in court proceedings related to impaired driving. He added that it is "absolutely critical" for the agency to have financial support to fight against impaired driving in Georgia.