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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho troopers take big bite out of DUIs

Idaho State Police troopers, from left, Holly Branch, Jeff Jayne and Paul Burke were honored at the ISP  office in Coeur d'Alene on Thursday for their high number of DUI arrests. 
 (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Drinking and driving is never smart, but it’s especially stupid when these three North Idaho troopers are on patrol.

Troopers Paul Burke, Holly Branch and Jeff Jayne made a combined 158 drunken driving arrests last year – accounting for 20 percent of all impaired driving arrests made statewide by the Idaho State Police last year.

The three were honored Thursday at ISP’s regional headquarters in Hayden. John Moffat, the Seattle-based regional administrator for the National Highway Traffic Administration, attended the ceremony, along with state dignitaries, to thank the troopers for their work.

“Every once in a while something truly remarkable stands out,” Moffat said. “I’m very impressed.”

Nearly half of all fatal crashes involve a drunken driver – last year in Idaho, 103 people were killed because someone chose to drink and drive, said Capt. Wayne Longo, commander of the ISP’s North Idaho division. Quite simply, stopping drunken drivers is a matter of life and death, he said. “We know we can save lives.”

The three troopers say their success is based on nothing other than hard work.

“I aggressively stop drivers,” said Branch, a nine-year ISP veteran, who patrols the Coeur d’Alene area. “That was the way I was trained.”

“Make traffic stops for any valid reason,” said Jayne, a former hunting guide who joined the ISP in 1999 and is assigned to Bonner County.

This means pulling over drivers with broken taillights or even those who make wide turns, Jayne said. The odds are decent the slight infraction will lead to bigger trouble for the driver – on any given weekend night, as many as 30 percent of drivers are intoxicated, he added.

In the past five years, Jayne has made more than 300 arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol. This year he’s up to 66 arrests and is only 10 shy of beating his total for last year. Although Jayne recently switched to the relatively sober day shift, he’s still averaging about two arrests a week. “People drink all hours,” he said.

Although the troopers credit aggressive police work for their high number of arrests, they say society also plays a role. More people seem to be driving while drunk, they said. Part of this might be the growing population, but the troopers also think there might be a growing acceptance of driving after having a few drinks.

“I’ve seen a heck of a lot higher numbers in the last couple of years,” Branch said.

Although the arrests might be making the roadways safe for others, officers face higher risks of assault and injury when dealing with intoxicated drivers. Intoxicated people are more likely to put up a fight. Late nights standing on the side of wet or icy roads administering sobriety tests can also be dangerous.

Branch said she’s had the back windows of her vehicle kicked out by a freshly arrested drunken driver. She’s also been forced off the road by oncoming drunken drivers.

The portable breath analyzers given to the troopers Thursday are expected to further boost their arrest numbers. It often can take an hour to impound a suspect’s vehicle and take the person to jail for a breath test – time enough for the blood-alcohol level to dip below the legal limit, Longo said.

Gov. Jim Risch, in town for Vice President Dick Cheney’s visit and other functions, presented the breath analyzers to the troopers.

“On behalf of the people of Idaho, I’m here to thank you for what you do,” Risch said, shaking their hands.