Description of STOP-DWI Program
Chemung County, New York
A Study Of Outstanding DWI Warrants
Connie H. Wiliszowski
Carlos E. Rodriguez-Iglesias
U.S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Washington, D.C. 20590
Contract Number DTNH22-98-R-05110
Mid-America Research Institute, Inc. of New England
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PROGRAM EXPANSION PLANS
This report is part of a larger project, A Study Of Outstanding DWI Warrants (NHTSA contract number DTNH22-98-R-05110). One objective of the study was to document practical strategies that can be used to minimize outstanding DWI warrants, thus providing another tool that communities can use to deter DWI offenders. During our search for innovative and promising strategies that jurisdictions are using to eliminate or minimize the outstanding DWI warrant problem in their communities, our attention was drawn to the STOP-DWI programs operating at the county level in the state of New York. These programs have been written about and evaluated many times in years past, but it came to our attention that some of the programs have been continually evolving and changing over the years to deal with new problems surrounding the ongoing battle against impaired driving actions. Thus, we thought it appropriate to take a fresh look at one of these programs.
This report summarizes the STOP-DWI program in Chemung County, New York which routinely serves warrants as part of the program. We note that, in Chemung County, most warrants for DWI offenders are issued for non-payment of court-levied fines rather than for persons who fail to appear during the adjudication process. However, the Chemung County strategy for serving warrants is one which could be modified by other communities which have large numbers of outstanding warrants at any point in the adjudication or dispositionary process.
New York State's Special Traffic Options Program for Driving While Intoxicated (STOP-DWI) was enacted by the New York State Legislature in 1981 for the purposes of empowering and coordinating local efforts to reduce alcohol and other drug-related traffic crashes within the context of a comprehensive and financially self-sustaining statewide alcohol and highway safety program.  All 62 counties in New York State opted to set up special anti-DWI related programs funded by fines paid by DWI offenders. This funding resulted from increasing the minimum fine from just $11 to $300-$2,000 (see fine penalties below).
Table NY1: New York State Fines for DWAI* and DWI** Offenses
|1st Offense||$300-$500||Mandatory $500-$1,000|
|2nd Offense||$500-$700||Mandatory $1,000-$4,000|
|3rd Offense||$750-$1,500||Mandatory $2,000-$5,000|
*DWAI - Driving While Ability Impaired (.05-.09 BAC)
**DWI - Driving While Intoxicated (.10 and higher BAC)
The resulting 58 programs (five counties in New York City operate together as one program) have these fines channeled back to them and are permitted to spend those monies to protect citizens residing in those counties from motorists who drive while intoxicated (DWI) or drive while their ability is impaired (DWAI). Percentage funding by program area during 1999 for all 62 counties combined are detailed below:
Table NY2: STOP-DWI 1999 Program Funding
|Program||Number of Counties||% of Dollars|
|Court-related (Prosecution & Adjudication)||59||
|Program Evaluation/ Administration||62||
Each county is given broad discretion over which areas to fund, as it was recognized that program needs vary among the counties. Each program has a coordinator who administers the funds and coordinates program activities. The coordinators must submit budgets and plans to their respective county governments annually and also to the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles. The coordinators have their own association and publish an informative newsletter.
The remainder of this report contains information obtained during a site visit to the Chemung County STOP-DWI program in December 1999 when Mid-America staff met and interviewed program staff.
Chemung County, New York is located approximately mid-way across the State on the southern border with Pennsylvania. The county population is approximately 100,000 with Elmira the largest city in the County. There are seven law enforcement agencies (LEAs) operating within the County which covers eleven townships. All seven LEAs enforce anti-drunk driving laws. The charts below depict the number of arrests from 1994 to 1998.
The Chemung County STOP-DWI program originated in 1981 and was moved from the County Mental Health Department to the Sheriff's Department eight years ago when a Deputy Sheriff became the program coordinator. As with the other county STOP-DWI programs operating within New York state, the program coordinator submits a plan yearly to County officials and to the State of New York which includes a budget to fund the project mission. The goals of the program, as stated in the 2000 STOP-DWI Plan for Chemung County, are to reduce the incidence of drinking and driving by:
1. Increasing the awareness of the risks of drinking and driving.
2. Increasing identification of the drunk driver.
3. Maintaining positive public support in getting the drunk driver off the road.
4. Timely and consistent application of legal penalties of DWI/DWAI.
These goals attempt to protect the public from impaired driving actions through public education and offender apprehension and, if possible, offender rehabilitation. There is a Chemung County STOP-DWI advisory board with members from law enforcement, county and municipal government, judges and justices, Traffic Safety Board members, the District Attorney's office, the Alcohol and Drug Abuse County, citizens groups and the local media.
This is a well-coordinated, comprehensive program which has been growing in size and reputation. Components of the program include enforcement, rehabilitation, public information/ education and program administration. Each of these components is discussed in more detail below.
The Chemung County STOP-DWI program funds two full-time officers in addition to the coordinator who is a Deputy Sheriff. These officers handle anti-DWI enforcement, search for defaulters with outstanding warrants and speak at various public forums to educate and inform the public about DWI offenders and about the program. In addition, program funds pay for roving LEA patrols, sometimes referred to as wolfpacks, to search for drunk or impaired drivers. The wolfpacks are staffed by off-duty officers from the seven LEAs operating in Chemung County who are paid overtime by the STOP-DWI program. The program coordinator schedules and oversees the wolfpacks, reportedly almost on a monthly basis. At times, these patrols are scheduled to coincide with checkpoints conducted by the New York state police.
During 1999, program enforcement staff and court personnel determined there were many long-time outstanding warrants on DWI and DWAI offenders and they estimated that 90%+ of these defaulters owed fines. The decision was made to attempt to collect these overdue fines. First, personnel in the Clerk of Court's office checked old records and compiled a list of offenders who had not paid all or part of a court-ordered fine for a DWI related offense. The total amount owed was approximately $190,000. (Note: individuals who were in arrears but were in contact with the courts to make payment arrangements were not included.)
Next, an attempt was made to locate current addresses for these individuals, which was possible in most cases. The presiding Judge then sent a letter to each individual informing them that records indicated they owed a certain amount due to a DWI offense and that if that amount was not paid by a certain date, a warrant would be issued for his or her arrest. This could be avoided if the person contacted the court prior to the stated date and made acceptable arrangements such as a payment schedule or paid the amount in full. Warrants were then issued, as promised, for those persons who did not comply and their names were also posted on a web site.
It was determined that enough money was outstanding that, if collected, could be used to pay for overtime for officers from multiple law enforcement agencies (LEAs) operating within the County to conduct a warrants sweep. The Chemung County STOP-DWI coordinator planned this sweep with the cooperation of the various LEAs. The local news media provided coverage of the pending sweep and then television news crews accompanied teams searching for defaulters. Fourteen people were arrested on outstanding DWI warrant charges. Several of these individuals were located with assistance from the public when individuals called a telephone number publicized in the media to tip officers off where to find defaulters. But the real value of publicizing and conducting the sweep was proven when 110 more people with warrants showed up at the courthouse to pay their outstanding fines to avoid arrest. (Note: these include individuals who had committed other offenses such as outstanding parking fines. In addition, one person wanted in a rape case also turned himself in as a result of the publicity surrounding the warrant squad.)
Again, an important attribute of this program is the ability to collect monies due from DWI offenders. When an individual was arrested on a warrants sweep and claimed he or she could not pay the fine, that person was incarcerated with bail set at a higher amount than the fine. Often, family members appeared wanting to post bail and they were informed that if they contacted the Clerk of Court and paid the lower fine amount, the person would be released from jail. Otherwise, not only was a higher amount necessary to make bail, but also when bail was posted, the bail bondsman would keep a percentage and, more importantly, the fine amount would still be due. One of the judges reported to project staff that the threat of jail was often enough to ensure payment of fines.
The Chemung County STOP-DWI coordinator plans to conduct warrant sweeps 3-4 times a year whenever the number of outstanding warrants reaches a number high enough to justify bringing in additional law enforcement officers. And the news media has proven ready to cover these events. The public has shown great interest and public support is apparent when occasionally a tip is provided to the STOP-DWI staff on where to locate someone who has not complied with court ordered sanctions for a DWI related offense.
As a last resort, if an offender fails to pay a fine, the District Attorney's office may file a judgment against the property of the offender. This is tantamount to a lien, which could take many years to collect. And, of course, this tactic may be used only when an offender owns tangible property. Still, it is yet another tool to force DWI offenders to fulfill their court-ordered obligations.
The STOP-DWI program coordinator works with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID) to conduct Victim Impact Panels. These panels are scheduled three or four times a year and are held in one of the court rooms. Offenders listen to how the lives of victims have been impacted and, in some instances, changed forever by the actions of a drunk or impaired driver.
Program revenue, generated by the collection of fines from DWI offenses, also fund the salary of a full-time probation officer and one, full-time, in-jail counselor who deals with offenders' problems with alcohol. The program recognizes that many of these offenders need counseling and treatment.
The program coordinator and the two other full-time officers, in addition to enforcement duties, travel to schools and other public forums to speak about impaired driving and the STOP-DWI Program. Free publicity is often provided by the media, especially during warrant sweeps when television coverage is provided. There is also a web site listing persons with outstanding warrants for DWI offenses (). As of December 2, 1999 the names of 124 persons arrested for DWI-related offenses were posted for either failing to pay fines, failing to complete court-mandated training or education, or for failure to appear for court dates. The program coordinator asks visitors to the web site to email or telephone authorities if they know the whereabouts of an defaulter. Also, individuals on the list who wish to come forward are instructed to either contact STOP-DWI or the courts.
The program coordinator also organizes and tracks the Chemung County Get Home Safe Taxi program. Establishments which serve alcoholic beverages are encouraged to call the taxi company for free ride service for patrons who have had too much to drink to drive safely. The program coordinator leaves the taxi program forms at all establishments which have agreed to participate. Each form contains a white cover sheet which is sent back to the STOP-DWI program, a yellow sheet which the cab driver accepts, a pink copy for the establishment and a gold copy which can be placed on the dash of the vehicle's owner to prevent the vehicle from being ticketed or towed for parking violations. The five dollar cost per trip agreed to by the taxi company and STOP-DWI has also been paid for out of STOP-DWI funds. However, the local restaurant and bar association has offered to begin paying one dollar of each Get Home Safe cab fare.
Fundamentals of Alcohol Intoxication Recognition (FAIR) which began in Monroe County, New York has been implemented at no cost to staff from any establishment in Chemung County which serves or sells alcoholic beverages. FAIR allows these establishments to learn ways to avoid lawsuits while meeting their obligation for server training and perhaps qualifies these businesses for a discount in liability insurance. FAIR educates the employees of businesses such as taverns, restaurants, super markets and convenience stores about issues such as ABC laws, proof of age, and customer relations.
The program budget also includes the coordinator's salary, equipment and computer purchases, software programs, basic supplies and copies of all program materials. In addition, occasionally program funds are used to purchase computer equipment for the courts.
We note that one reason, in part, for the ability of the STOP DWI program to seek defaulters is the availability of data. Detailed records are kept in a least two systems: ALECS, a county-wide computer system which tracks criminal history by individual, and a separate New York Statewide Police Network. The county system is funded by 911 surcharge money. During our search for outstanding warrant information across the United States, it has become apparent that there is a lack of informational systems capable of providing data on individuals who either fail to appear at some point during the adjudication process or fail to comply with court ordered sanctions. This is not the case in Chemung County where the data systems are queried on a routine basis to provide law enforcement with pertinent information necessary to locate defaulters.
PROGRAM EXPANSION PLANS
Future plans for additional program components include the use of ignition interlock devices on the vehicles of offenders to be paid for entirely by the offenders and routine appearance by the coordinator on a local morning news program to discuss individuals with outstanding warrants and pending warrant sweeps.
The Chemung County STOP-DWI program is a well-coordinated, program comprised of many tried and proven components which have been shown to impact impaired driving actions (e.g., victim impact panels, in-jail alcohol counseling). But what has interested project staff most is that program staff have recognized a significant problem with convicted DWI offenders failing to pay court-ordered restitution, and those defaulters were able to be identified by county data systems. It was also recognized that the revenue from the fines owed would fund the capture of these defaulters. Not only would the overdue fines pay for the warrant sweep and provide more monies owed to the STOP-DWI program, but most importantly, these round-ups would send a strong message to the defaulters, as well as the general public, that court-ordered sanctions must be fulfilled.
As noted in the beginning of this report, in Chemung County, most warrants for DWI offenders are issued for non-payment of court-levied fines and not for persons who fail to appear during the adjudication process. However, this method of serving warrants is one which could be modified for use by other systems with large numbers of defaulters at any point in the adjudication or dispositionary process. The keys to success are:
1. A person(s) willing to take charge of coordinating efforts.
2. Data systems which accurately reflect where defaulters are falling out of the system and can identify those individuals.
3. A team effort between LEAs, judges and prosecutors to follow uniform procedures when dealing with defaulters.
4. Forcing the defaulters to pay the additional costs necessary to fund law enforcement officers to aggressively seek out and arrest individuals who drop out of the system without fulfilling their obligations.
While New York State's STOP-DWI programs receive all fine monies from DWI-related offenses, this is not true for anti-DWI programs in other states. Many receive some portion of related fines, but the remainder of fine monies are already earmarked for certain systems or agendas. Thus, additional penalties would need to be levied against defaulters, which could require additional legislation. However, if the problem exists that many offenders are allowed to ignore the system, then that system becomes ineffective in its efforts to safeguard the public.
 Smith, Dick. 1999. New York State's Special Traffic Options Program for Driving While Intoxicated - STOP-DWI Seminar. Regional Conference on Impaired Driving. Madison, WI.
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