NightCAP patrols catch

Brian Close

Broken taillights, expired tabs, cracked windshields and other minor traffic violations allowed state, county and local law enforcement agencies to crack down on drunken drivers Saturday night.
To find drunken drivers, a police effort called NightCAP beefs up patrols in a specific area or intersection to stop drivers committing any traffic offense, including equipment violations.
However, University Police officers said the already high arrest rates for drunken driving in the campus area preclude them from participating in the effort.
“We don’t have the staff to have overtime officers coming in and doing that, and we tend to get our fair share of DWI’s anyway,” said University Police Sgt. Jo Anne Benson. “We don’t have to go looking that hard for them.”
NightCAP is funded by a federal grant and coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
The patrols, which began in January, are scheduled to occur once a month in the metro area, with one patrol in the east metro area and one in the west.
This weekend’s effort resulted in a total of 180 stops. Police wrote 168 citations, including eight driving under the influence arrests. In addition, they made arrests for outstanding warrants and driving without a legal license.
State Patrol Lt. Dave Graham said the NightCAP officers used lasers to target speeders. He said lasers are better for targeting specific cars in heavy traffic, while traditional radar is harder to direct.
“A person was operating the laser off the freeway ramp,” he said. “Then chase cars came down the ramp and stopped the vehicles after they had been caught on the laser.”
NightCAP patrol efforts are coordinated to coincide with events that have a high occurrence of drinking.
“We do them during periods of time when we know we are most likely to find people who have been drinking and driving,” said Karen Spratler, safety program coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and author of the grant.
She said NightCAP patrols operated during St. Patrick’s Day and the Super Bowl, holidays and events commonly associated with alcohol.
Benson said the University Police force is at full staff during events with a high occurrence of drinking such as Homecoming and the beginnings of the school’s quarters.
“We have officers working the events on campus. We may put beat officers in the squads and put the bike patrol out, especially in the areas where we expect more patronage,” Benson said.
The NightCAP grant was recently approved for another fiscal year, Spratler said, meaning the patrols will continue on a monthly basis through September 1999.