Since the Travis County sheriff’s office formed a drunken-driving enforcement team in January, the number of DWI arrests by deputies has increased 61 percent so far this year, officials say.
Department records show that deputies made 362 DWI arrests from January through June, compared with 225 for the same period last year. Authorities said many of the arrests happened on major highways in Austin, including Interstate 35 and MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1).
Until this year, patrol deputies tried to spot and arrest drunken drivers while looking for other traffic violations and responding to calls for service. Hamilton said he wanted to create a team that specialized in finding and arresting drunken drivers, who last year contributed to 132 accidents in the county. Officials did not know how many resulted in fatalities or serious injuries.
Last year, 91 people died on Travis County roads; so far this year, the number is 53.
Hamilton initially named two deputies to the team but increased it to five officers a couple of months ago because of the unit’s success. He said he might continue to add deputies.
Hamilton’s efforts are part of a national trend in law enforcement to create DWI enforcement teams, which let officers develop an expertise in looking for drunken drivers.
The Austin Police Department has a similar unit with about 20 officers.
Lt. Al LeBlanc, who supervises the sheriff’s team, said his deputies usually work from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. and concentrate their patrols on weekends.
“They look for obvious signs of intoxicated drivers, whether it is weaving or driving too slow or running red lights,” LeBlanc said.