The Oro Valley Police Department is applying for a state grant that, while relatively small in terms of dollar amount, should keep officers on patrol longer and strengthen its attack on drunken drivers.
The department is seeking the grant funds to send six officers to the Phoenix College Law Enforcement Phlebotomy Program for training in the drawing of blood from drunken drivers.
The intent of the training, said Police Chief Danny Sharp, is to reduce the time spent by officers transporting DUI arrestees to the hospital for blood draws, to reduce the cost of having those draws done by hospital staff and to strengthen enforcement of DUI violations by seeing to it the draws are done more quickly. Quicker readings would ensure that readings of blood alcohol content levels are as accurate as they can be. The department's policy is to have all DUI arrestees submit to a blood draw in lieu of a breath or urine test because it has proven to be the least challenged and most effective means of prosecution in such cases.
The town currently pays a discounted rate of $10 per blood draw when the draws are done in a hospital and officers spend as much as an hour and a half in the process of transporting arrestees, said Charlie Lentner, patrol operations commander.
Multiplied by the 148 DUI arrests made by Oro Valley officers in 2002 and the fact that the department is on pace for 250 DUI arrests this year, the overall savings resulting from the phlebotomy training, including mileage, could be significant, Lentner said.
In the town's application to the Governor's Office of Community and Highway Safety for the $4,470 it will cost to fund the additional training, Sharp makes note of the tremendous growth the town has experienced over the past several years and projections of town population increasing from more than 31,000 residents to 50,000 by 2005.
This growth, Sharp said, has seriously hampered officers' ability to focus on traffic enforcement. In 2001, as an example, the department responded to 12,500 calls for service, excluding traffic enforcement activity, a 19 percent increase from 1998. Meanwhile, the number of traffic citations for speeding, land and traffic signal violations increased 44 percent between 1998 and 2000.
In 2001, however, DUI arrests were down 20 percent from 1998, largely because of the time spent on addressing other problems and the growing complexity of investigations, Sharp said.
With the increase in traffic volume anticipated as a result of population growth and in particular annexations by the town, especially along Oracle Road, the Arizona Department of Transportation is anticipating an immediate 80 percent increase in accident investigations in the Oracle Road corridor between Ina Road and the town's southern boundary at Camino Cortaro. Similar increase in DUI arrests are anticipated, Sharp said.
These problems should be better addressed with the phlebotomy training by freeing officers to spend more time on patrol, he said.
The requested phlebotomy training grant is only one of several steps the department is taking to address the increasing number of traffic violations.
Other steps include a newly created traffic squad of two DUI officers and four motorcycle units and the addition of one motorcycle officer, the establishment of a special operations/traffic unit to monitor critical areas in an attempt to curb the escalation and severity of accidents, public awareness partnerships with schools through their driver education programs and the assigning of an officer as a liaison to the Oro Valley Engineering Department and Arizona Department of Transportation to analyze problems and develop solutions. A contingency plan has also been put in place to deploy 10 new officers in newly annexed areas.
When staffing permits, the department also works with the Southern Arizona DUI Task Force to provide additional enforcement resources.
The Oro Valley Town Council approved applying for the grant at its Jan. 15 meeting.
Also at the Jan. 15 council meeting, the council on a 3-2 vote with Vice Mayor Dick Johnson and Councilmember Werner Wolff dissenting, postponed a request from Cottonwood Properties for approval of a preliminary plat to allow 73 homes on nearly 24 acres in Neighborhood 3 of Rancho Vistoso. The site is zoned as a Planned Area Development with a commercial use land designation.
Although residential uses are permitted on the site and a rezoning is not required because it is within the town's Oracle Road Scenic Corridor Overlay District, Mayor Paul Loomis and Councilmembers Paula Abbott and Bart Rochman voted for the extension in light of concerns regarding a proposed land swap, the impact the new homes would have on the Amphitheater Public Schools District and encroachment of development into open space.