Grant to bolster State Patrol's DUI task force

Two state law-enforcement programs recently received a boost, as part of an endeavor to reduce the number of impaired drivers on Georgia's roads.

The Governor's Office of Highway Safety has awarded a traffic-safety, H.E.A.T. grant, totaling nearly $1.8 million, to the Georgia State Patrol.

H.E.A.T. stands for Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic.

The money will be used to expand the partol's Nighthawk DUI Task Force, as well as its Administrative License Suspension Program (ALS).

Director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety Bob Dallas said the grant will help beef up the Nighthawk program, particularly in Gwinnett and Chatham counties, including Savannah.

"The Nighthawks are very important to us," said Dallas. "Our hope is that the motoring public realizes how important it is not to drink and drive. By using the Nighthawks, we know that it is a very effective strategy to get drunks off the road."

Dallas added that annual statistics for DUI-related deaths highlight the need for the Nighthawks to continue operating. "About 535 people in Georgia are killed each year, due to impaired drivers," he said. "We have about 500 homicides in Georgia, and ... more deaths due to impaired drivers. This is not a light subject. This is serious business."

State Patrol Lt. Paul Cosper said the Nighthawks, in operation since 2004 in Georgia, have been nationally recognized as one of the best DUI units in the nation. "It [has] seasoned officers, who are trained in the detection of people who operate vehicles under the influence of alcohol or drugs," he said. "They are powerful investigative tools."

Cosper said the Nighthawks, some of whom are certified drug-recognition experts, concentrate much of their efforts on metropolitan Atlanta, and on the coast of Georgia, near Savannah. He said the grant money will enable those troopers to obtain more equipment and training, to perform their duties.

The lieutenant said the Administrative License Suspension portion of the grant will support administrative judges, who determine probable cause in DUI cases. He said proceedings that those judges oversee are separate from court hearings, and are included in provisions for Georgia's Implied-Consent Law.

According to state law, anyone who drives in Georgia is deemed to have given his or her consent to the testing of their blood, breath and urine, for the purposes of determining an individual's blood-alcohol content.

A written statement issued by the State Patrol outlined the function of the Nighthawks and the ALS program: "Troopers receive training, legal assistance and, in some cases, legal representation as they testify at Administrative License Suspension hearings for people charged with driving under the influence," the release said. "Impaired drivers account for almost one-third of the traffic deaths on Georgia roads each year and the effort to reduce the number of impaired-driving, fatal crashes is one of the objectives of the Nighthawk DUI Task Force."