For Immediate Release: 5/11/2016
Onondaga County to Pilot DWI-Ignition Interlock Enforcement Initiative
New York State hosts training for police, probation and prosecutors
County one of three to share $100,000 state grant to fund enforcement activities
New York State today hosted a training for deputy sheriffs and probation officers in Onondaga County aimed at enhancing DWI enforcement that targets convicted drunk drivers who break the law by operating vehicles without ignition interlock devices, circumventing them or tampering with the devices so they don’t work.
The training is part of a pilot program – funded by a $100,000 grant from the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee and developed by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services – that will allow Onondaga and two other counties to conduct enhanced enforcement activities targeting those who violate the state’s ignition interlock requirements. The targeted enforcement will occur between Memorial Day and Labor Day in Onondaga and two other counties participating in the program: Oneida and Dutchess.
Ignition interlock devices prevent those who have been drinking from driving, as an individual must blow into the device before starting a vehicle. If the device detects alcohol, the vehicle won’t start. Individuals convicted of drunk driving are subject to ignition interlock device installation under Leandra’s Law, which also makes it a felony to drive drunk with a child under 16 in the vehicle. The law took effect in December 2009 and is named in memory of 11-year-old Leandra Rosado, who died when the SUV in which she was riding crashed on the Henry Hudson Parkway in New York City because its driver – the mother of a friend – was driving drunk.
About 20 law enforcement professionals from the county District Attorney’s Office, Probation Department and Sheriff’s Office attended the three-hour training in Syracuse. The Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee (GTSC) and Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) partnered on the program because charges brought for violating the ignition interlock provision of Leandra’s Law more than quadrupled from 2011 to 2015. In 2011, there were 817 charges, as compared with 3,301 in 2015, according to statistics from the state Department of Motor Vehicles. DCJS will administer the grant funding and its staff are teaching the training.
DCJS Executive Deputy Commissioner Michael C. Green said, “The ultimate goal of this program is to keep drunk drivers off our roadways. These interlock devices are a necessary safeguard against a dangerous and often deadly behavior. I commend our local law enforcement partners for participating in this pilot, which will increase compliance with the law and provide a model for other counties to follow.”
GTSC Acting Chair and Department of Motor Vehicles Executive Deputy Commissioner Terri Egan said, “Our goal is to keep motorists safe by ensuring dangerous drivers are kept off of our roadways, and this program does that. Unfortunately, some drivers continue to violate the law even after being convicted of impaired driving, risking their own lives and the lives of countless others. By providing this crucial funding and stepping up enforcement, we are holding those convicted accountable and making sure they are not able to get behind the wheel after having even one drink.”
The training is key to the enforcement initiative, as Leandra’s Law has been amended several times since its adoption. The grant will fund overtime so law enforcement in Dutchess, Oneida and Onondaga counties can conduct enforcement activities.
Under the law, judges are required to order all drivers convicted of misdemeanor or felony drunk driving charges to install and maintain ignition interlock devices on any vehicles they own or operate for at least six months at their own expense.
Individuals who attest under oath that they have sold or transferred title to their vehicles – and as a result aren’t ordered to install the device – still have the ignition interlock condition on their New York driver’s license and DMV license file. These individuals are still prohibited from driving a vehicle without an interlock, but some continue to do so in violation of Leandra’s Law.
The law also makes it illegal to tamper with or circumvent an ignition interlock device. Individuals may face jail time if convicted of any offense under the law. In addition, individuals on probation may be charged with a violation of their sentence if charged with an ignition interlock offense.
Onondaga County Executive Joanne M. Mahoney said, “Driving while intoxicated is a serious crime that can have devastating and far-reaching impacts. The law mandating ignition interlock devices is aimed at protecting the public from individuals that have demonstrated poor judgment when it comes to getting behind the wheel after having too much to drink. With this pilot program, our hope is that we can prevent someone from making the tragic choice to get behind the wheel after having too much to drink.”
Added Onondaga County District Attorney William J. Fitzpatrick, “Interlock devices are an important tool that law enforcement uses to keep people already convicted of DWI off the roads if they have been drinking. Like other counties in the state, our rate of compliance among drivers ordered to install these devices is low, however most of these drivers either claim to not own a car or have turned in their plates. This funding will help us hold accountable, all offenders who flout the law.”
Onondaga County Sheriff Eugene Conway said, “The Sheriff's Office is eager to be part of a pilot program through the Governor’s Office that will provide for deputies to enforce compliance with those who have been ordered by a court to install an ignition interlock device. Drunk driving puts lives at risk and having the means to monitor that a courts requirement is being followed will help in the effort to keeping our roads safe.”
Since the ignition interlock provision of Leandra’s Law took effect on Aug. 15, 2010, through the end of last year, 27 percent of the nearly 94,000 convicted drunk drivers were required to install ignition interlock devices. Another 15 percent complied with the order after their driving privileges were restored, typically six months after being sentenced.
DCJS staff conducted the training for law enforcement in Dutchess County last month and will present the training in Oneida County next week. The following agencies are participating in the program in those counties:
- Dutchess County: Poughkeepsie Town Police, Poughkeepsie City Police, Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office, Probation Department, and District Attorney’s Office
- Oneida County: The Utica and Rome police departments and the Probation Department, Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office
The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (www.criminaljustice.ny.gov) is a multi-function criminal justice support agency with a variety of responsibilities, including law enforcement training; collection and analysis of statewide crime data; maintenance of criminal history information and fingerprint files; administrative oversight of the state's DNA databank, in partnership with the New York State Police; funding and oversight of probation and community correction programs; administration of federal and state criminal justice funds; support of criminal justice-related agencies across the state; and administration of the state’s Sex Offender Registry.
The Governor's Traffic Safety Committee (www.safeny.ny.gov) coordinates traffic safety activities in the state. The Committee awards federal highway safety grant funds to local, state and not-for-profit agencies for projects to improve highway safety and reduce deaths and serious injuries due to crashes.