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February 15, 2018 10:00 PM

On The Watch For Drunk Drivers

Rapid City, SD

Every day, 28 people die from drunk driving related crashes in the U.S.

In Rapid City the number of DUI arrests is on the rise. Last year police in South Dakota's second largest city averaged three drunk and driver arrests every day. Officers want to turn the numbers around. 

For Rapid City Police officer Tyler Kath, conducting field sobriety tests is part of a day at work.  It's his job to find to find people who are driving drunk.

"While all the other officers are going to regular calls, like assaults and disturbances, we're specifically going after drivers that are impaired," police officer Tyler Kath said.

His nights can get busy.

"During the summertime it's not unlikely to see 10 to 12 DUI arrests a week, during the winter it can vary, just dependent on the business of the bars and the traffic that's out there," Kath said.

All of those arrests add up.  Officer Kath has made 100 arrests since July.  Other officers have been just as busy.

"In 2016 we saw 875 DUI arrests, in 2017 that increased to 1,012, which is an increase of 137 DUI arrests," Captain James Johns, Rapid City Police Department said.

They're numbers no one wants to see. 

"Our officers are out there working hard and making these DUI arrests, but it's very discouraging in that with all of our education, with all of our enforcement, with all the options that are available to people, people are still making the stupid decision to get behind the wheel when they're drunk," Johns said.

Until that changes, Rapid City police will remain proactive and do everything they can to get drunk drivers off the road.

"DUI enforcement is a priority for every single patrol officer out there on the streets because they know the drunk driver can be out there at 11:00 in the afternoon, just as likely as they'll be out there at 11 p.m. and so the idea is to identify that drunk driver, arrest them and get them off the streets so the public can be safe," Johns said.

For Officer Kath, that means looking for signs that a driver is over the limit.

"We're looking at their eyes, we're looking for bloodshot, glassiness to their eyes, maybe sleepiness to their eyes, we're also looking at slow movements and actions," Kath said. "And we're also trying to tell if there's slurred speech, as well as the odor of an alcoholic beverage."

When an officer notices any of those things, they start a field sobriety test.

"We do alphabet, we do number count," Kath said. "From there we check the eyes for lack of smooth pursuit and from there we do what we call walk and turn, and from that we do one leg stand and then usually the last part of that field sobriety test is a PBT."

"If we can arrest a person who is drunk, if we can arrest them and take them off the street, odds are they aren't going to be able to go home and assault their spouse, they're not going to be able to go home and make further bad decisions in their house and get themselves arrested for some other crime so in the same note, DUI enforcement is protecting the public, but it's also a level of crime prevention," Johns said.

Leaving officers knowing they're making a difference and keeping the city's streets safe.

"I think we make an impact every day, I think when we go after those impaired drivers and we're taking them off the road, we're mitigating that risk of somebody getting injured or killed, not just the innocent people that are on the road but the impaired drivers as well," Kath said.

Law enforcement also hope more people will take advantage of the ride sharing program Lyft, now that it is available in Rapid City. 

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