Photo above: Law enforcement agencies gather with partners to announce the No Refusal Weekend.
COEUR d’ALENE – With help from the Idaho Transportation Department, various law enforcement agencies in Kootenai County are expanding measures to protect the traveling public this holiday season, beginning with the No Refusal Weekend during Thanksgiving week.
“Drug- or alcohol-impaired driving is the leading cause of fatal crashes in Idaho,” said John Kempf, a captain with the Idaho State Police (ISP), during a press conference Thursday (Nov. 16).
Kempf said seven people died from six fatal crashes in Kootenai County in October — a significant number considering that during the last three years, there have been eight fatalities on average in the county for the entire year.
Of those six fatal crashes in October, ISP suspects five were alcohol or drug related, Kempf said.
In response, law enforcement agencies are launching a county-wide campaign to catch impaired drivers and prevent fatal crashes. Nick Knoll, an officer from the Coeur d’Alene Police Department, coordinated with other law enforcement agencies and the Idaho Transportation Department’s Office of Highway Safety to produce the No Refusal Weekend.
The No Refusal Weekend includes educational opportunities for the public but also marks the beginning of emphasis patrols for the holiday season. There will be 15 extra officers throughout the county Nov. 24-25, patrolling specifically for impaired drivers, Knoll said.
Knoll said these emphasis patrols were made possible by federal funding administered by ITD.
“ITD approved grants for local law enforcement agencies to cover the additional costs that will result from these extra patrols to enforce traffic safety,” said Lisa Losness, a grants officer for the Office of Highway Safety.
Five law enforcement agencies within Kootenai County applied for funding to pay the overtime wages of officers, with requests ranging from $500 to $1,500, to take part in the No Refusal Weekend, Losness said.
Viewers will have a chance to learn what makes the weekend unique by visiting the Facebook page of the Post Falls Police Department for a virtual ride-along experience starting at 8 p.m. on Saturday (Nov. 25), Knoll said.
If drivers are pulled over and refuse to take a breath test during emphasis patrols on No Refusal Weekend, officers will attempt to obtain a search warrant to have specially trained officers collect blood samples. Local law enforcement agencies note that those who refuse to cooperate with breath testing tend to have a significant history of DUIs and a high blood alcohol content when tested, Knoll said.
Test results from blood samples ultimately shorten court proceedings and save police departments time and money, Knoll said.
For those drivers stopped during the No Refusal Weekend for reasons unrelated to impaired driving, Knoll said Fire Artisan Pizza in Coeur d’Alene has provided officers with coupons to hand out as a thank-you to sober drivers.
ISP will offer alcohol beverage control training to any interested servers or bartenders at its Coeur d’Alene office at 1 p.m. on Tuesday (Nov. 21). The public is also invited to attend an informational booth in the Resort Plaza Shops before and after the Coeur d’Alene Lighting Ceremony Parade on Friday (Nov. 24). Visitors can wear “beer goggles” that simulate impaired driving, Knoll said.
Football fans who visit the booth can enter to win a football signed by Mark Rypien, the Washington Redskins’ MVP from Super Bowl XXVI, said Kootenai County Sheriff Wolfinger.
Parade viewers can also cheer on the No Refusal Weekend float and its theme of “Be a Hero. Prevent Impaired Driving” and know that the law enforcement agencies escorting the float have already partnered to protect travelers this holiday season.