DUI Squad May be Cut in Budget Shortfall

DUI Squad May be Cut in Budget Shortfall

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Department of Public Safety's full-time squad dedicated to stopping drunken drivers may fall victim to the state's budget troubles.

The department has proposed dissolving the DUI squad in light of nearly $1.5 million in budget cuts handed down by the Legislature during a Dec. 18 special session.

The 13-member squad, which was formed about 10 years ago, is responsible for about half of the DUI arrests made annually by the Utah Highway Patrol. The officers will be reassigned to vacant field positions, Utah Commissioner of Public Safety Robert Flowers said Thursday.

The proposal comes less than a week after the Utah Department of Corrections announced it might have to release some 400 inmates from prison to deal with $3.4 million in budget cuts handed down by the Legislature during the special session.

Lawmakers concluded the session, their fifth of the year, by approving an additional $117 million in state budget cuts. Gov. Mike Leavitt has until the middle of January to approve the Legislature's budget or veto it in total or by line item.

Leavitt will consult with all of the state's department heads before making any final decisions, said spokeswoman Natalie Gochnour.

The potential loss of the highway patrol's DUI squad means troopers who used to spend their entire shifts combing the roads for impaired drivers must now take on other responsibilities like investigating accidents and catching speeders.

"It will lose some of its emphasis," Flowers said of the DUI focus. "There's no way to avoid that."

Still, Flowers said catching drunken drivers will remain UHP's number one priority.

DUI blitzes, like the recent five-day, statewide holiday enforcement campaign that concluded New Year's morning, will continue with the help of some state and federal grants.

The latest campaign netted 158 DUI arrests in Salt Lake County alone, according to UHP Lt. Doug McCleve.

Flowers said dissolving the squad was one way to avoid some 50 layoffs in his department while maintaining the same number of regular troopers on the streets.

"We think that the physical safety of people is a priority," Flowers said. "The whole idea for this is not to see a reduction of officers on the street."

UHP currently has 17 trooper positions open, and the reassigning of various employees will help fill those spots.

Other proposed cutbacks include reassigning the state's SWAT team, known as the Special Emergency Response Team, to field positions. Many SERT members also worked on the DUI squad.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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