By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — When Lt. Michael Stevens of the Niskayuna Police Department used to patrol for intoxicated drivers, he always knew he’d find at least a few offenders on the road.
“I would stop anything and everything,” he said.
If a driver failed to signal a turn or had a headlight out, for example, Stevens would stop the person just to check if he’d been drinking.
“Statistically, the odds are, you’re going to get one sooner or later,” he said.
Even though there are no bars within the town of Niskayuna, there are some restaurants with liquor licenses, and Stevens said people sometimes drive through town from more heavily trafficked drinking areas nearby.
The department’s strategy is to patrol and keep an eye out for unusual driving, rather than to set up checkpoints, as police sometimes do on busy thoroughfares.
When officers do pull someone over, they’re well-trained to assess the driver’s state. The town of Niskayuna puts about $10,000 toward training and enforcement for DWI each year, Stevens said, largely funded by fines collected from offending drivers.
“Fine money that’s received from DWI in the state goes back into the Stop DWI program,” Stevens said. “It’s the only charge in New York state where that occurs.”
In addition to rigorous training to teach officers to recognize impaired drivers during field sobriety tests, the department has two officers certified to recognize the effects of illegal and prescription drugs.
“There are a lot of involuntary things that occur when someone is under the influence, stuff that they can’t fake,” Stevens said. “It basically teaches the officers to look for those signs.”
The department pours time and energy into policing drivers simply because every department has seen firsthand what can happen when people behave recklessly, under the influence of substances.
“There are just so many people who have been hurt or killed by DWI over the last 20 or 30 years,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate to not have a fatal accident in the last couple of years.
“That’s the ultimate goal, is to prevent injury and death to innocent people, just driving down the road,” he added.
A recent social media campaign by the Niskayuna Community Action Program complemented the Police Department’s efforts.
“During the holidays, 2-3 times more people die in alcohol-related crashes,” reads one Facebook post associated with the N-CAP campaign. It features a picture of a wine glass and a broken Christmas ornament.
Stevens said no matter how the message of careful driving spreads, it’s an important one for drivers of all ages to internalize.
“Alcohol’s funny because the more you drink, the better you feel,” he said.
“People don’t realize. They feel good. They think they can drive, but they actually can’t.”