DWI Enforcement in Austin

There are nearly 1.5 million Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) arrests each year in this country, making impaired driving one of the most frequently committed crimes.

Austin , Texas modified their DWI program in 1999. A key feature of Austin ‘s program was the development of a full-time team of DWI “specialists.” These officers patrol the streets in two-person teams, looking for impaired drivers. They are also available to assist general patrol officers in processing DWI offenders thus relieving the burden on those officers so that they can return to their patrol duties.

Austin ‘s program includes enhanced training for officers in DWI enforcement. Rookie officers now accompany members of the DWI team for four weeks to gain hands-on experience in identifying and processing DWI suspects. The unit is under the direction of the Traffic Administration Section.

The enforcement team, is comprised of eight patrol officers and one sergeant, and concentrates its patrol efforts on detecting and apprehending impaired drivers. Each officer assigned to the DWI enforcement unit receives training in administering the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. They also became certified Intoxilyzer operators, and several have completed a drug recognition course.

While all APD officers receive DWI enforcement training at some point at the APD police academy, many officers have not had recent experience in handling the complicated processing required by this type of arrest. A training videotape was utilized by the Traffic Office to brief all officers assigned to the task force on the proper DWI enforcement procedures. The supervisors of officers requiring additional training notified the Traffic Office for additional training assistance. All DWI task force officers work in uniform and drive marked police units.

The dedicated unit concentrates enforcement efforts on areas where DWI offenses are most likely to occur (e.g., entertainment areas featuring bars and nightclubs) during times when most impaired drivers are on the road (i.e., evenings, weekends and holidays). Typically, the DWI units are dispersed throughout the city, but at times saturation tactics are utilized. In addition to initiating their own alcohol-related arrests, members of the Enforcement Team provide support to regular patrol officers during peak offense times, relieving patrol officers by handling the lengthy processing of DWI arrests.

If asked to assist in a supporting role, the special officer may supervise the process, or may advise at certain points, such as validating the HGN results. Or, if asked, the special officer may completely take over the arrest, which allows the general patrol officer to return to service quickly. In this case, the initiating officer would then be responsible for writing a supplement to the DWI unit officer?s report. The supplement to the main report contains the reasons why the general patrol officer stopped the vehicle, what was observed and that the process was turned over to the DWI unit. If there is not a sober occupant in the vehicle to drive it, the general patrol officer may wait for the police wrecker to tow the vehicle.

The entire DWI enforcement unit works every Friday evening. The unit is split with half working Tuesday through Friday evenings, and the remaining working Wednesday through Saturday evenings. The shifts are rotated every four weeks. Reportedly there is a low turnover rate within the unit and several officers have been with the unit for four years. The DWI enforcement unit is not an assigned unit, meaning APD officers must apply for any open positions. The current sergeant for the unit reports that officers serving on the Unit are passionate about making arrests. DWI arrests are one of the few areas in law enforcement where the arresting officers can follow a case from arrest to adjudication.

While all APD officers have, at some point, received training on detecting and arresting DWI offenders, many have not actually handled this type of arrest, or at least not recently enough to feel comfortable about properly handling the complicated procedures and paperwork. If this is the case, general patrol officers, upon stopping a suspected impaired driver, may elect to call in a DWI special enforcement unit officer to support or handle the arrest process. Or new officers with less experience, who do want to handle the arrest, may need assistance, because during the time that rookie officers initially spend riding with training officers, they may never encounter a DWI. When they eventually do detect and stop a DWI suspect, enough time may have passed since their academy training that they may wish to have an experienced DWI officer present to offer guidance and assistance.

In fact, in August 2002, a new aspect of the cadet training program began in an effort to expose new officers to the actual DWI arrest process. Under this program, each area commander sends one rookie officer per week to the DWI unit for a three-week assignment. The first week, each cadet rides with a DWI unit officer and observes procedures and reviews their skills in ad-ministering the roadside tests. On the second and third weeks of their temporary assignment, they ride alone but work with the DWI unit taking hand-off arrests and making some of their own DWI arrests. Therefore the cadets, while learning proper procedures, strengthen the number of officers serving on the DWI unit. The fourth week they report back to their shift at their as-signed area command. By this time, they are familiar with apprehending and processing their own DWI offenders and with taking hand-offs from fellow officers in their area command. This training program should help to maintain, and perhaps further increase, the number of DWI arrests.

DWI Arrests

The number of DWI arrests had been trending down from about 3,500 in 1990 to only 2,200 in 1996, and had been holding steady from 1994 through 1997.

With the start of a part-time DWI task force in 1998, arrests increased to 4,077, an increase of 48 percent over the 2,747 arrested for DWI in 1997. A further increase to 4,500 occurred in 1999 during the transition from the task force to the full-time DWI unit. The arrest rate remained at a high level in the following two years, with only a slight dip in 2001.


Conviction rates for DWI cases adjudicated in county courts in Travis County (where Austin is located) increased from approximately 70 percent in 1996 to 77 percent immediately after the start of the program. This 7 percent increase in conviction rates remained in effect through the year 2001.