Portage Co. Sheriff's officials crack down on drunken drivers - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Portage Co. Sheriff's officials crack down on drunken drivers

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STEVENS POINT (WAOW) -

Portage County Sheriff's officials are cracking down on drunken drivers. The county's "Alcohol Crackdown" comes at a time when lawmakers are also exploring ways to toughen Wisconsin's drunken driving laws.

The Portage County Sheriff's Office said their "Alcohol Crackdown" initiative is working.

They said tougher penalties could stop more people, under the influence, from getting behind the wheel.

Portage County Sheriff's officials are watching closely for drunken drivers.

"I think drunk driving has plagued our communities for a long time," said Sgt. Kevin Sorenson, Portage County Sheriff's Office.

The "Alcohol Crackdown" initiative puts more officers on the roads in Portage County at peak times.

"Friday, Saturday evening, those deputies are out on the road looking for drunk drivers," said Sgt. Sorenson.

The program is funded by a $25,000 state grant.

Officials said that equals close to 400 extra hours of patrols.

Portage County Sheriff's officials said since the start of this year, they've arrested nearly 150 people for drunken driving.

Officers said last year's total was 200 arrests.

"I think that we probably arrest more drunk drivers as a result of the alcohol grant, deputies have the time to concentrate on those violations," said Sgt. Sorenson.

Officers said new drunken driving bills under discussion in Madison could help their efforts.

The proposed bills include criminalizing a first offense OWI, if the driver's blood alcohol level is at least .15 percent.

The bills also propose making third and fourth offenses felonies, mandatory court appearances for drunken drivers and setting a minimum sentence for drunken drivers who injure or kill someone.

"They're going to realize this is a danger situation, it's not just a culture in Wisconsin," said Sgt. Sorenson.

Last week, people spoke to lawmakers in Madison about the need for tougher laws.

But some lawmakers question how effective these measures would be.

For now, no action has been taken on the legislation.

Portage County officials said up to this point in the year, they've had five traffic fatalities and of those, three were caused by impaired drivers.

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