Roanoke's DUI Task Force surprised by numbers for first year on patrol

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) - Members of the Roanoke Valley DUI task force are breaking down the numbers of their first year on patrol.

Leaders of the task force say while they expected to make a decent number of arrests, they were surprised about how quickly they were able to be successful - leading them to believe the Roanoke Valley still has a long way to go when it comes to stopping driving under the influence.

Officer C. A. Jacobs is one of the six members on the DUI Task Force. She's with the Roanoke County Police Department. The other six members include officers from Roanoke City Police, Vinton Police and the Salem Police Department.

Jacobs and the other officers spend each night on the job patrolling the streets, creating checkpoints, watching for and stopping impaired drivers. The task force was created with a grant from the Department of Motor Vehicles. They kicked off in March of 2017, allowing for the payment and allocation of officers, their training and their tools.

This is Officer Jacobs' job, but it's also her passion.

"Every cop gets into law enforcement to save lives. And traffic enforcement and particularly DUI enforcement you're doing that every day,," she said. "Every DUI arrest there's no telling how many people you're saving."

Since January she's made nearly 30 DUI arrests. But that's not the alarming number.

In year one, the six-member task force made 385 DUI arrests.
That's enough for one arrest per day for a year- and then some.

"Three hundred eighty five arrests in the first year is frankly a good bit more than we anticipated would be made from the DUI task force," said
Roanoke County's Police Chief Howard Hall.

He said while the amount itself is not surprising, it's the speed at which they were able to be successful that surprised them.

“Everybody has a cell phone. Everyone has access to a friend, has access to Uber, to a taxi. Anything," said Officer Jacobs. "I think it makes me kind of frustrated to think this person drove willingly when they could have just made a phone call."

Chief Hall broke down the data from year one of the task force, which was from March 2017 to February 2018:

- 385 DUI arrests total
- 310 arrests were drunk drivers
- 75 arrests were drivers under the influence of drugs
- 43 felony arrests
- 83 misdemeanor arrests
- 60 arrests for drug posession
- 269 drivers arrests for not having a drivers license or having one that was suspended

Hall said while the public message regarding driving under the influence hasn't changed - people are still making bad decisions.

"Our commitment and the purpose of the task force is to make sure that those people who don't get the message - their chances of getting caught goes up," he said. "And when they do get caught they get taken to jail."

Also surprising," Chief Hall said, was the number arrests of drivers under the influence of drugs is rising.

Officer Jacobs is a "DRE" certified officer, meaning she is considered an expert in drug detection. She said visible influences from drugs might be slight, but she's been taught how to detect all kinds of drug effects.

Jacobs and Hall say they're glad the DMV renewed the task force for a second year. They say the Roanoke Valley still has a problem.

"It's not really as much about well you might get caught, you might go to jail, you might have to pay a fine," Hall explained. "It's really about - you could be dead."