Overland Park Though alcohol-related accidents are on the rise here, the Overland Park Police Department has taken traffic officers off early-morning patrols when the chance for drunken-driving fatalities rise.
Three officers who once worked traffic patrols until 3 or 4 in the morning now are assigned to a daytime shift so they can concentrate on investigating and reducing wrecks.
It all comes down to making hard choices about how to use a limited number of officers, department officials said.
"We don't ignore DUIs," said Sgt. Charles Tippie, a supervisor in the department's 12-person traffic division.
"We would love to have a big bunch of people working DUI saturation patrols every night," Tippie said. "But we have very, very limited staff."
Overland Park is not alone. Other police departments in the area with personnel constraints are forced to choose between emphasizing traffic enforcement during the day, or at night. Most departments say they would like to do both, but forced to choose, they favor the time of day when most wrecks occur.
The Overland Park Police Department's traffic unit now works primarily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. For the remaining hours, enforcement is handled by regular patrol officers who also must answer calls about assaults, robberies, murders and other crimes.
"By removing those resources during those times, we can be missing out on some serious drinking-and-driving issues that happen at that time," said Becky Peek, president of the Heartland Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
There are more than twice as many fatal accidents involving alcohol between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. as there are during the day, according to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
And Overland Park, like the rest of Kansas and the nation, has seen an increase in the percentage of crashes caused by drunken driving.
The percentage of accidents involving alcohol in Overland Park increased to about 3.2 percent last year, from 2.3 percent in 1999.
Statewide, the percentage of alcohol-related accidents increased to 4.6 percent in 2001 from 4.2 percent in 1999. Statewide statistics for the last year were not available.
Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass said eliminating the early-morning traffic patrols enabled the department to concentrate its officers on the top-25 accident locations across the city.
He credited that effort with cutting the city's overall accident rate by 8.5 percent during the past four years.
Overland Park is not alone in relying on regular patrol officers to nab drunken drivers. The North Kansas City, Mo., Police Department also doesn't use midnight drunken-driving patrols.
Olathe has two traffic officers on duty, but only one stays on as late as 2 a.m., said Sgt. Greg Scott, who heads the city's traffic division.