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Clayton's H.E.A.T. unit targets impaired drivers

By Maria-Jose Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

Starting Friday, the Clayton County Police Department's Traffic, and Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic (H.E.A.T.) units will intensify their efforts to spot motorists driving recklessly or under the influence, as part of a statewide campaign to keep Georgia's roads safe through the holiday travel period.

Operation Zero Tolerance, will begin Dec. 17, and run through Jan. 2, according to Lt. Brian Danekes, commander of Clayton's H.E.A.T Unit.

"Our hope, of course, is that we catch no one," he said Thursday. "Our main focus is to keep the public and drivers safe as they come through Clayton County."

Danekes said the police department has been a part of this statewide campaign for more than seven years. "We are going to increase our visibility for our highway travel," said Danekes. "We are going to increase our road checks in the day time and night time. We are going to deter drinking and driving."

He said, during the coming weeks, the public should expect a lot more police officers on the roads, more than usual. For security purpose, Danekes said, he was unable to share just how many officers would be on the roads.

"If [anyone] decides to drink and drive within this two-week period, a high percentage of them will be pulled over," he said.

Last year, 25 individuals driving under the influence were arrested during the campaign, said Danekes. In 2008, there were 48 arrests, he said.

Danekes said the campaign is spearheaded by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, and that law enforcement agencies across the state are participating.

Jim Shuler, a spokesman for the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, said state and federal crash data show that the period between Thanksgiving and the New Year's holiday is one of the most dangerous times to travel.

"The Christmas driving period can be a killer on our highways, at home and across the country," he said. "And drunk driving is the [main] reason for this season of havoc on our highways."

In addition, the Georgia State Patrol will also join state traffic enforcement agencies across the U.S., and Canada, for a program being called, "National Holiday Lifesaver Weekend," from Thursday, Dec. 17, to Sunday, Dec. 19, according to Georgia public safety officials.

The Clayton County Police Department will not be involved in this program, said Danekes.

Col. Bill Hitchens, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, said Georgia State Troopers and Motor Carrier Compliance Division officers, will be joining the weekend efforts, and that impaired drivers will be targeted.

"We are joining this nationwide effort, because it focuses on driving behaviors that kill across the nation, and this is not just a local problem," he said. "This time of year is especially dangerous on our roads, and that danger is only compounded by alcohol-and drug-impaired drivers."