Saturday, December 09, 2006

Ken Gibson

Austin DWI Attorney
700 Lavaca St., Suite 1010
Austin, TX 78701
512 469-6056
Toll Free: 888-DWI Texas

Click here to find out more about Ken
Picture Posted by Hello

Who says police officers never lie?

KXAN reported that an Austin police officer is under investigation for allegedly lying about a case that led to the criminal conviction of an Austin man.

Ernest Smith was convicted in September on drug charges, but the district attorney’s office learned something was wrong, and it had to do with one Austin cop.
It’s unclear exactly what this officer may have lied about, but it was big enough for the district attorney to do something it rarely does.
The district attorney’s office initiated a conversation with Smith’s defense attorney and offered to vacate a judgment on his conviction based on new information. Essentially, Smith’s conviction from September is going to be withdrawn.
APD and the DA are not sharing too much information with KXAN either but we do know this…
Sources say that officer lied about something in the drug case, so District Judge Bob Perkins dropped the case
entirely some three months after Smith was convicted. But friends of his say it’s too late.
That’s because Smith is still in jail on unrelated drug charges. It’s also unclear how this might affect the other cases this accused officer is involved with.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Travis County Judges are asking for help with the backlog of cases

Each month Travis County court-at-law judges handle thousands of criminal cases. Judges say their average monthly caseload has increased 60 percent since 2002

“So the decision has been made to ask for one new court,” Court-at-Law #3 Judge David Crain said.

The five judges made their requested during a work session with county commissioners last month. Each county court currently has an average of 3,200 cases pending.

“The most labor intensive case is a DWI,” Crain said. (I guess my office probably has something to do with that.)

In the last decade, the number of DWI cases has risen 135 percent. Judges say the number of cases and the type of cases are taking its toll.

“There will be a time when our ability to function the criminal justice system and have orderliness and protect the community will be compromised,” Crain said.

Adding a sixth court-at-law would reduce the caseload for each judge to around 2,000 a month. Crain said that’s a more realistic number.

Creating a new court requires approval of the Texas Legislature, but it’s up to the county to fund it.

Last year, Hays County added another district court. They say it’s allowed them to signficantly reduce the number of backlogged cases.

“That’s important for the taxpayers because it means it takes less time for cases to get to trial. It means that fewer people who are waiting in jail,” 428th District Court Judge Bill Henry said.

In Travis County, the judges hope lawmakers approve a new court-at-law this legislative session so a new judge can take the stand by January 2008.

A new court would cost the county around $800,000 and would mainly cover salaries for additional staff.

If the commissioners court asks the Legislature to create a new court, funding would come from the 2007 - 2008 budget.

Click here for the full story as reported by New 8 Austin

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Top five bars drunk drivers say they were last served

KXAN NBC Austin obtained a list from Austin police identifying the top five bars drunk drivers say they were last served. It’s information meant to help curb DWI’s, but is it working?
Officers are asking suspected drunk drivers this question — “Where have you been drinking tonight?”
Several bars keep popping up as answers. Some more than others.
It’s a top five list no bar wants to be on. So far this year, more and more drunk drivers say they were partying at:
Cedar street,
Club Carnaval,
Blind Pig,
Oilcan Harry’s.
“We try to get these officers to ask them, ‘Where have you been drinking?’ If it’s a business establishment. To give us an idea of are there any violations at those businesses that are already serving to people intoxicated?” APD Lt. Craig Cannon said.
So APD hands the list over to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, but it doesn’t seem to be going far.
TABC agents used to go into the bars on the list just about every night, undercover, looking for overserved patrons and arresting them before they got behind the wheel.
That was causing a lot of controversy. TABC agents were spotting drunks, just by looking at them. So the program stopped.
The problem of drunk driving has not. APD’s own research shows the number is on the rise. In all of last year, there were 5724 DWI arrests. So far this year, there has been 4165 arrest. Police say they average hundreds of arrests a month.
“We’d love to stop them before they get in the car,” Cannon said.
KXAN NBC Austin asked: “Some TABC agents may be thinking all the DWI’s we’re seeing, maybe it’s because we stopped this program?
Cannon said: “Oh no, it’s not related to that. It didn’t change anything we did. We still arrest the same DWI’s like before. We still ask the date, and we still trap the data. Regardless of the TABC policies or procedures.”
A TABC spokesperson says the agency still believes in its undercover program and are currently looking over its policies. So until then they are just holding on to the bar lists.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

National effort targets drunken drivers

Federal and state police started a nationwide crackdown on drunken driving Wednesday, saying previous efforts had not done enough to reduce deaths from impaired drivers.
The crackdown, however, may face resistance from a growing industry devoted to defending people arrested on drunken driving charges. These groups contend overzealous police forces inflated the problem out of proportion, trampling rights in the process.
The new effort, sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, involves 11,000 law enforcement agencies. It includes:
_Increased patrols and checkpoints in states that allow them.
_An $11 million television advertising campaign that will replace the previous “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” slogan with “Drunk driving- over the limit, under arrest.”
“Drunk driving is an epidemic and is a scourge of this country,” said Jim Champagne, a Louisiana State Police trooper and chairman of the Governors’ Highway Safety Association. “The cost to the country in lives, in jobs and in economic value is unbelievable.”
The traffic safety administration released new statistics Wednesday showing that deaths in traffic accidents involving drivers whose blood alcohol level was at least 0.08 fell 1.2 percent in 2005 to 12,945.
NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason said the decision to get tougher with drunken drivers came after a decade of small reductions in fatalities despite arrests that totaled 1.4 million in 2004.
“This is really focused on enforcement. This is not a friend asking a friend to not drive drunk,” Nason said. The message is “it’s illegal to drink and drive, and you’re going to go to jail for it.”
During the past decade, federal officials and groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers pushed for tougher penalties against drunken drivers. Since 1999, every state has set its definition of drunk at the 0.08 blood alcohol level, and added penalties such as on-the-spot cancellation of driver’s licenses and vehicle impoundment for suspects who refuse blood alcohol tests. Champagne contended states could do more, and “stop piddy-padding in judicial systems and letting drunk drivers get off.”
While those changes made a small dent in alcohol-related deaths, they spawned a network of companies and attorneys who defend people charged with drunken driving. The National College for DUI Defense has about 500 attorneys as members (including Ken Gibson), and several Internet sites offer long lists of tips about what to do if pulled over for drunken driving.
“It’s lawful in every state to drink and drive, but it’s unlawful to drink to the point of impairment,” said Patrick Barone, a Birmingham, Mich., attorney who specializes in drunken driving defense. Roadblocks and checkpoints “are an inappropriate use of executive power and police resources.”
Barone and other attorneys contend the revenue generated from drunken driving cases in fines make police overly aggressive, arresting drivers who have a smell of alcohol on their breath but no signs of impairment.
Further, arrest quotas at some police departments sweep up innocent people.
Zero tolerance is a great slogan, but it’s not the law in any state in the country

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Does Smoking Make You Drink More?

People may drink more alcohol if they’re smoking cigarettes between sips, a new study shows.
Smoking and drinking often go together, though not all smokers drink and not all drinkers smoke.
Researchers from Texas A&M University studied interactions between nicotine, which is found in cigarettes, and alcohol. They studied adult female rats, but the findings may apply to people.
“Cigarette smoking appears to promote the consumption of alcohol,” says researcher Wei-Jung Chen, PhD, in a journal news release.
Chen and two other Texas A&M researchers — Scott Parnell, PhD, and James West, PhD — tested alcohol and various nicotine doses on the rats.
The researchers found that when they sent alcohol straight into the rats’ stomach via a tube, the rats had lower blood alcohol levels if they had also gotten nicotine.
“This may encourage drinkers to drink more to achieve the pleasurable or expected effect,” says Chen.
Nicotine may somehow affect the stomach’s handling of alcohol, the researchers note.
They figured that out by repeating their experiment with one change. They injected alcohol into the rats’ abdominal cavity (the space surrounding the abdominal organs) instead of piping it into the rats’ stomach. Nicotine had no effect on blood alcohol levels under those conditions, the study shows.
Chen plans to study interactions between alcohol and other drugs. Meanwhile, he says in the news release that “the current findings should be a warning to the general public regarding the danger of abusing multiple drugs, since the pharmacokinetic interactions among these substances are often unpredictable and injurious.”
Click here for the full story as reported on the site.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Travis County Sheriff’s Office ramps up their DWI arrests

Since the Travis County sheriff’s office formed a drunken-driving enforcement team in January, the number of DWI arrests by deputies has increased 61 percent so far this year, officials say.
Department records show that deputies made 362 DWI arrests from January through June, compared with 225 for the same period last year. Authorities said many of the arrests happened on major highways in Austin, including Interstate 35 and MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1).
Until this year, patrol deputies tried to spot and arrest drunken drivers while looking for other traffic violations and responding to calls for service. Hamilton said he wanted to create a team that specialized in finding and arresting drunken drivers, who last year contributed to 132 accidents in the county. Officials did not know how many resulted in fatalities or serious injuries.
Last year, 91 people died on Travis County roads; so far this year, the number is 53.
Hamilton initially named two deputies to the team but increased it to five officers a couple of months ago because of the unit’s success. He said he might continue to add deputies.
Hamilton’s efforts are part of a national trend in law enforcement to create DWI enforcement teams, which let officers develop an expertise in looking for drunken drivers.
The Austin Police Department has a similar unit with about 20 officers.
Lt. Al LeBlanc, who supervises the sheriff’s team, said his deputies usually work from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. and concentrate their patrols on weekends.
“They look for obvious signs of intoxicated drivers, whether it is weaving or driving too slow or running red lights,” LeBlanc said.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Driving While on Cell Phone Worse Than Driving While Drunk reported that maneuvering through traffic while talking on the phone increases the likelihood of an accident five-fold and is actually more dangerous than driving drunk, U.S. researchers report.
That finding held true whether the driver was holding a cell phone or using a hands-free device, the researchers noted.
“As a society, we have agreed on not tolerating the risk associated with drunk driving,” said researcher Frank Drews, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah. “This study shows us that somebody who is conversing on a cell phone is exposing him or herself and others to a similar risk — cell phones actually are a higher risk,” he said.
His team’s report appears in the summer issue of the journal Human Factors.
In the study, 40 people followed a pace car along a prescribed course, using a driving simulator.
Some people drove while talking on a cell phone, others navigated while drunk (meaning their blood-alcohol limit matched the legal limit of 0.08 percent), and others drove with no such distractions or impairments.
“We found an increased accident rate when people were conversing on the cell phone,” Drews said. Drivers on cell phones were 5.36 times more likely to get in an accident than non-distracted drivers, the researchers found.
The phone users fared even worse than the inebriated, the Utah team found. There were three accidents among those talking on cell phones — all of them involving a rear-ending of the pace car. In contrast, there were no accidents recorded among participants who were drunk, or the sober, cell-phone-free group.
The bottom line: Cell-phone use was linked to “a significant increase in the accident rate,” Drews said.
He said there was a difference between the behaviors of drunk drivers and those who were talking on the phone. Drunk drivers tended to be aggressive, while those talking on the phone were more sluggish, Drews said.
In addition, the researchers found talking on the cell phone reduce reaction time by 9 percent in terms of braking and 19 percent in terms of picking up speed after braking. “This is significant, because it has an impact on traffic as a system,” Drews said. “If we have drivers who are taking a lot of time in accelerating once having slowed down, the overall flow of traffic is dramatically reduced,” he said.
In response to safety concerns, some states have outlawed the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. But that type of legislation may not be effective, because the Utah researchers found no difference in driver performance whether the driver was holding the phone or talking on a hands-free model.
“We have seen again and again that there is no difference between hands-free and hand-held devices,” Drews said. “The problem is the conversation,” he added.
According to Drews, drivers talking on the phone are paying attention to the conversation — not their driving. “Drivers are not perceiving the driving environment,” he said. “We found 50 percent of the visual information wasn’t processed at all — this could be a red light. This increases the risk of getting into an accident dramatically,” he said.
The reason that there aren’t more accidents linked to cell phone use is probably due to the reactions of other — more alert — drivers, Drews said. “Currently, our system seems to be able to handle 8 percent of cell-phone drivers, because other drivers are paying attention,” he said.
“They are compensating for the errors these drivers are causing,” he speculated.
This is a growing public health problem, Drews said. As more people are talking and driving, the accident rate will go up, he said.
One expert agreed that driving and cell phone use can be a deadly mix.
“We don’t believe talking on a cell phone while driving is safe,” said Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “It is a level of distraction that can affect your driving performance,” he said.
NHTSA has just completed a study that showed that 75 percent of all traffic accidents were preceded by some type of driver distraction, Tyson said.
Tyson pointed out that talking on the phone is very different than talking to the person in the passenger seat. “If you are engaged in a conversation with a passenger, the passenger has some situational awareness, whereas a person on the phone has no idea what you are dealing with on the road,” he said.
“Our recommendation is that you should not talk on the phone while driving, whether it’s a hand-held or hand-free device,” Tyson said. “We realize that a lot of people believe that they can multi-task, and in a lot of situations they probably can, but it’s that moment when you need your full attention, and it’s not there because you are busy talking, that you increase the likelihood that you are going to be involved in a crash,” he said.
Tyson also sees this as a growing public health issue. “Every time we do a survey, there are more people using cell phones while driving,” he said. “And the popularity of hand-held devices like Palm Pilots or Blackberries, and people using them in the car, is another problem,” he added.
An industry spokesman said cell phones don’t cause accidents, people do.
“If cell phones were truly the culprit some studies make them out to be, it’s only logical that we’d see a huge spike in the number of accidents [since their introduction],” said John Walls, a vice president at the industry group, the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association-
The Wireless Association. “To the contrary, we’ve experienced a decline in accidents, and an even more impressive decline in the accident rate per million miles driven,” he said.
“We believe educating drivers on how to best handle all of the possible distractions when you’re behind the wheel is the most effective means to make better drivers, and that legislation focusing on a specific behavior falls short of that well-intended goal and creates a false sense of security,” Walls said.

New cell phone has built-in breathalyzer

UPI reported that a cell phone with a built-in alcohol breath analyzer is headed to the United States from South Korea, where more than 200,000 of the devices already been sold.
South Korean manufacturer LG will introduce the LP4100 to the U.S. market later this year, ABC News reported.
Users blow into a small spot on the phone, and of nothing happens they are theoretically safe to drive. But if the user has had too much to drink, the $400 phone displays the image of a weaving car on the screen.
The report did not indicate what alcohol threshold was set in the phone.
To help the drinker, the phone can be programmed to disallow calls to selected numbers in the electronic phone book after certain hours, thereby preventing embarrassing late-night or early-morning inebriated calls to bosses and ex-partners, the report said.

Monday, June 26, 2006

FAA Issues Final Ruling On Alcohol, Drug Use

The FAA Thursday issued a long-awaited final ruling on alcohol and drug abuse, under which a pilot who either refuses a drug or alcohol test at the airport, or is found with a blood-alcohol content of more than .04-percent, will lose his medical certificate.

The same rules would apply to air traffic controllers, as well. The rule also standardizes the deadline for reporting positive tests or refusals.

The changes go into effect July 21, 2006.

The new rules were met with opposition from the Air Line Pilots Association. ALPA says one positive test does not an alcohol or drug addict make.

The FAA states that before regaining medical certification for flight, a pilot whose been revoked for drug or alcohol abuse must enter rehabilitation and must demonstrate the ability to meet the standards set out in FAR Part 67. Furthermore, a blood-alcohol level of more than .04-percent must be reported to the FAA within two days.
The new rules don't change the penalties for pilots who are arrested for DUI or DWI. Even if it's unrelated to air travel, an arrest for driving under the influence or driving while impaired can still cost a pilot his ticket.
Click here for information on the FAA site, including the final order.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Another Bad Apple at the Austin Police Department is Fired

In May, Austin police officer, Cpl. Richard Munoz, was fired by then-Police Chief Stan Knee after Munoz was accused of choking a handcuffed 15-year-old boy Nov. 11, at a trailer park, according to a police memo.
Munoz also investigated a separate incident at the park that day involving a teenager said to have been sexually preying on children but did not file the report properly, giving the attacker time to assault someone else, the memo said.
Munoz has appealed the firing.
Munoz has been with the department for almost 11 years. He was suspended temporarily three times before, according to city records. Those suspensions involved participating during work hours in an online chat room where he called himself “worstkindaman,” not reporting crimes and filing late crime reports, according to the records.
The department declined to comment Wednesday about Munoz’s firing May 3.
Details about what had happened emerged from the police disciplinary memo:
Munoz was called to the trailer park, whose address was removed from the report, because a 15-year-old boy was refusing to obey his mother.
Munoz arrested the boy and his 12-year-old cousin for not being in school but then realized that it was a school holiday.
He released the 12-year-old but kept the 15-year-old in handcuffs while he investigated the original disturbance call. Munoz got angry with the way the 15-year-old was acting, so he grabbed him by the face and neck, according to the memo. Four people, including the boy, said the teenager’s face became red and “his breathing inhibited due to being choked.”
While Munoz was at the trailer park, someone told him that another teenager there had fondled four children, including the handcuffed 15-year-old.
Munoz talked to the fondling suspect but did not contact the teenager’s parents. He also did not interview one of the alleged victims or get any information identifying the victim.
When Munoz later wrote a report about the incident, he did not put the right title on it so that it could be forwarded to the child abuse unit, according to the disciplinary memo. By the time internal affairs investigators discovered the mistake, “another child was allegedly assaulted,” the memo said.
After they got the report, child abuse investigators arrested the suspect and charged him with indecency with a child.
Internal affairs investigators also questioned Munoz about the choking incident at the trailer park, the memo said.
Munoz denied that he had put his hands around the teenager’s face or neck but later admitted doing so after taking a polygraph test, according to the memo.
The videotape in Munoz’s patrol car recorded the officer saying to the boy, “You aren’t man enough, do you understand me?” according to the memo.
Munoz had been suspended in 2005 and twice in 1998. His one-day suspension in 2005 was for his chat room participation during work hours, according to a police memo.
Munoz was suspended for two days in 1998 because as he was arresting an intoxicated bicyclist, another man left with the man’s bicycle and belongings, and Munoz never reported the theft, according to the police memo.
Munoz also didn’t get approval from a supervisor before having the arrested man booked into jail, the memo said.
Munoz was suspended again in 1998 for one day for two separate incidents. In the first incident, he told someone who complained that a vehicle had left the scene of a collision that he couldn’t take a report because the police computer system was down, a memo said. Munoz never wrote a report.
In the second incident, Munoz turned in a report five days late about a collision involving a pedestrian and a car, the memo said.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Will all autos some day have breathalyzers?

USA Today posed the question in a recent article:
Could the day be coming when every driver is checked for drinking before starting a car?
Widespread use of ignition interlock devices that won't allow a car to be started if a driver has had too much alcohol, once considered radical, no longer seems out of the question. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) gives a qualified endorsement to the idea. New York state legislators are considering requiring the devices on all cars and trucks by 2009. And automakers, already close to offering the devices as optional equipment on all Volvo and Saab models in Sweden, are considering whether to bring the technology here.
Manufacturers are perfecting technology that could detect alcohol on the skin surface, eliminating the need for the current, cumbersome, blow-into-a-tube breath-analyzing systems. Current breathalyzers cost about $1,000. The newer systems are expected to cost about the same.
The New York bill was introduced by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, who also sponsored the bill that became the first law banning the use of handheld cellphones while driving. To those who say neither the public nor the technology is ready for such a universal application, Ortiz says he heard similar complaints about the cellphone ban and hands-free technology. He compares the criticism to early complaints about mandatory safety belts.
But Ortiz's bill faces a tough fight. The idea of forcing every driver to pass a blood alcohol test to start a car raises privacy concerns, irritates non-drinkers and has some restaurant industry officials worrying about a march back to Prohibition, or at least the demonizing of social drinking.
MADD and others trying to reduce the 17,000 alcohol-related fatalities a year say ignition interlocks are the only sure way to separate potential drunken drivers from their "weapons."
"If the public wants it and the data support it, it is literally possible that the epidemic of drunk driving could be solved where cars simply could not be operated by drunk drivers," says Chuck Hurley, CEO of MADD, which is hosting its first conference on drunken-driving technology in June.
MADD doesn't currently support requiring the devices on all cars because it doesn't think the technology is ready. For now, the organization prefers requiring the devices, called ignition interlocks, for anyone convicted of a first drunken-driving offense.
About 70,000 ignition interlocks are on vehicles — most of them ordered by courts for repeat drunken-driving offenders.
Even without universal use, there's a huge potential market in the 1.4 million people who are arrested for drunken driving each year. Legislation is pending in at least 12 states that would require interlocks for some or all first-time offenders.
State Farm Insurance spokesman Dick Luedke says interlock discounts wouldn't make much sense because "for the majority of our customers, installing one of these things would have absolutely no impact. For the person who does have the problem and does install (the device), if it does inhibit him from driving impaired, that's worth way more than a lower insurance rate."
Barry Sweedler, a former National Transportation Safety Board official, is trying to persuade automakers to put the wiring for ignition interlocks in all cars to make it easier to install the devices. And once interlocks can automatically check alcohol levels without any action from drivers, Sweedler thinks they should be standard equipment on cars.
Current technology requires a driver to blow heavily into a breathalyzer device before starting the car and regularly while driving. With that system, "Unless a person is an offender, to require it for everyone is too intrusive," says Sweedler, past president of an anti-impaired-driving group that has sponsored ignition interlock conferences for the past six years.
George Ballance, director of sales and marketing for device maker DraegerSafety, says his company advocates interlocks as part of teen driving laws and insurance company discounts.
"We want to get on the preventive side of the cycle and not just be on the court-ordered side," he says.
Draeger encourages its employees to carry pocket breath analyzers and would fire any worker convicted of drunken driving.
"We're not here to say, 'Don't drink.' We're here to say 'Don't drink and drive,' " Ballance says.
Opposition to breathalyzers
Such talk makes John Doyle, executive director of the American Beverage Institute, cringe.
"This campaign is a lot further down the pike than people realize," says Doyle, whose group is funded by chains including Outback Steakhouse and Chili's and is leading the opposition to broader use of interlocks.
He says the existing devices are costly and easy to defeat, by getting someone else to blow into them or using an air compressor instead of a driver's own breath. Besides, he says most drunken-driving deaths are caused by hard-core offenders who have slipped through the system.
"How far are you going to go to reduce alcohol-related fatalities?" Doyle asks. "Maybe they should make driving at night illegal."
Opposition comes from other sources, too. Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU, says his group opposes laws that require judges to mandate interlocks for convicted drunken drivers. Rhode Island's Legislature is considering a bill that would require interlocks for second-time offenders and first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol level above 0.15, which correlates to drinking seven drinks in an hour for a 170-pound male.
"Our concern about mandatory penalties is that they don't allow courts to take all situations into account, including that the cost is quite significant and the effect it has on family members," Brown says. "Some individuals can't afford it."
While automakers are working on interlock technology, they are cautious. General Motors safety chief Bob Lange says his company has been working on ways to integrate alcohol-detection devices into cars for 30 years, but still doesn't think any are close to ready for widespread use in this country.
"If the technology incorrectly restricts ... sober individuals, it is unlikely to be supported," says Lange, who says systems must be "transparent" to non-drinkers. "Public acceptance and technological viability are essential."
Sue Cischke, Ford Motor's safety chief, agrees obstacles remain. "Some of the challenges include designing a system that is most of all accurate, not easily disabled or avoided, is easy to use and does not create driver-distraction issues."
Swedish brands Volvo, owned by Ford, and Saab, owned by GM, are at the forefront of auto industry efforts to incorporate interlocks into cars. Swedish regulators are expected to soon propose a deadline of 2012 for all cars in that country to have alcohol interlocks.
Volvo's Alcolock — which is built into the seat belt buckle — will likely be available as an option on cars in Sweden within three years. Saab's Alcokey has the technology built into the key.
For automakers, anything that keeps a car from starting sounds too much like the public relations nightmare that came out of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's 1973 decision to require devices that would prevent cars from starting if seat belts weren't buckled.
After a huge public outcry and widespread disconnections, Congress passed a law the following year prohibiting NHTSA from requiring seat belt interlocks or warning buzzers lasting more than eight seconds.
Some critics say alcohol-related interlocks would be even more problematic than seat belt interlocks because about 40% of adults say they don't drink at all. MADD's Hurley says most people don't steal or have their cars stolen, but keys still have built-in anti-theft technology.
Ortiz agrees: "This is a tool that will save lives. We have to stop putting parameters on it."
Ortiz disputes claims that the technology is not ready, but even interlock makers don't think their systems should be offered on all cars — yet. Albuquerque-based TruTouch Technologies, which makes a device that detects alcohol using light rays through the surface of the skin, will introduce a version for use in police stations next year to replace breathalyzers. CEO Jim
McNally says he is talking to automakers about offering his system as an option, but not until at least 2010.
New Mexico, which has the toughest interlock law in the country, isn't ready to go as far as Ortiz is proposing. Last year, New Mexico passed the first law requiring interlocks for first-time drunken-driving offenders after earlier debating — and rejecting — mandatory installation in all vehicles.
Wary of 'annoying' car buyers
Volvo technical safety adviser Thomas Brobergsays he isn't sure mandating interlock technology is the way to go: "It might not be good to force these kinds of systems onto customers. There are quite a few things that can be quite annoying to the customer."
Jim Champagne, a former Louisiana state police lieutenant colonel who spent decades responding to drunken-driving crashes and now chairs the Governors Highway Safety Association, is guardedly optimistic about the prospects for interlocks.
Champagne says he would "love to see" optional interlock devices offered.
"It would give an opportunity for parents and guardians to get more involved," he says. But as standard equipment on all cars? "To tell the American public this is going to be on your car? No way."

Join the Austin Police Department and you too could make $100K

City paid patrol officers $3.9 million extra last year to meet staffing goal.
The bill for overtime at the Austin Police Department for routine patrols has increased 468 percent during the past five years, hitting $3.9 million last year, according to city payroll and budget records.
At least 10 officers earned enough overtime to make six-figure salaries in 2005, working as many as 70 hours a week to cover for fellow officers who were sick, injured, suspended or on vacation. They also filled in the gaps for 107 officer positions the city has authorized but not filled.

Austin police Cpl. John Coffey racked up the overtime in 2005, working an average of 55 hours a week. Coffey earned $145,451. The city has 107 fewer officers than allowed.
"Sixty hours a week is nothing," said Austin police officer Jonathan Martin, a retired U.S. Marine with 11 years on the force who last year made $55,000 in overtime, nearly doubling his salary. "I've worked hard all my life, and this is an opportunity for me."
The department chose five years ago to set a new staffing goal. To reduce crime, former Chief Stan Knee decided the city needed at least 80 percent police staffing at all times, or having eight officers show up for every 10 assigned to a patrol area.
But instead of hiring enough new officers to ensure that they could fill those shifts, city and department officials decided to give supervisors the authority to use overtime if any shift dropped below 80 percent staffing.
City Manager Toby Futrell says Austin would need 86 new officers to avoid overtime to fill shifts, at a cost of $6 million for their first year, according to city estimates. The city doesn't have statistics to show what it would cost to reach its authorized strength — in other words, to have a fully staffed Police Department.
And even if the city decided to hire the additional officers, reaching full staff could take several years because of a 2004 decision to cut back on the number of police academy classes to save the city $1 million per year. The city decided to add a class this year to help keep up with hiring needs.
"We are going to continue to assess this," Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza said. "But based on our assessments, we believe adding back a second cadet class should improve the staffing levels."
The overtime increases are part of a steadily growing police budget, prompted in large part by a new contract in 2004 that gave Austin officers — already the highest-paid in the state — raises and bonuses.
Even spending $3.9 million in overtime pay hasn't been enough to always hit the city's staffing target.
City officials say the department reached the goal 89 percent of the time last year. But certain parts of town have seen fewer officers on the street. In December, for example, the busy downtown area met the staffing goal 76 percent of the time, department records show.
Several officers and supervisors said the shortages leave officers waiting longer for backup on calls and can increase response times for less serious calls such as car and home burglaries.
They said it also keeps them from having time for community policing, one of the department's proclaimed priorities, which encourages officers to build relationships with residents in the neighborhoods they patrol so they can learn more about crime and other quality of life concerns. And because they're so busy responding to calls, they rack up more overtime by staying as long as two hours at the end of their shifts writing reports.
In the city's 68 police patrol areas, supervisors continue to send out regular pager messages offering overtime shifts. First come, first served.
Martin, a motorcycle officer, routinely answers those calls. He worked the most hours of any officer last year, averaging 60 hours a week and earning $117,000, making him the eighth-highest-paid officer in the city.
Officers who once competed for the rare opportunity to make extra cash have become so accustomed to overtime money that they depend on it to pay their mortgages and car notes. Martin said he uses the money to send his son to the University of Texas.
Policies and practice
Today, total overtime, including that of patrol officers, accounts for 6 percent of the department's $172 million budget — a higher percentage than that of San Antonio, Dallas and El Paso.

Futrell said those cities do not have minimum staffing levels.
Experts who study police staffing say using overtime is part of doing business for most law enforcement agencies nationwide, particularly in places with officer shortages.
However, Elaine Deck, program manager for the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Alexandria, Va., said overtime usually isn't used indefinitely because of the expense and because of fear of officer burnout.
"When people are in prolonged periods of overtime, they are prone to exhaustion," she said. "And anybody who is exhausted isn't going to be as efficient or effective."
Department policy allows officers to work up to 30 hours of overtime per week. They also can work up to 16 hours in a row, unless a supervisor allows them to stay on duty longer.
It is up to the officers to keep track of how many hours they work. Officers may be — and frequently are — asked to produce a log to supervisors at any time, said Mike Sheffield, president of the Austin Police Association.
Sheffield said officers generally know when they are too tired to work any longer.
"They know their own limits," Sheffield said. "And if somebody comes to work and supervisors detect they are tired, the supervisor has a lot of options. He can certainly send them home."
Changes for police
The department first began feeling stretched — and began using overtime to fill vacant slots — shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when the city began shifting 17 officers from regular patrol to guard potential terrorism targets.
Later that year, Knee, who left the department last month to take a job helping train police in Afghanistan, decided to set the 80 percent staffing goal after the police union urged him to adopt a minimum standard.
Futrell, who at the time was deputy city manager, and former City Manager Jesus Garza signed off on the proposal.
"It seemed like a reasonable goal," Futrell said. "The idea was that any shift has to anticipate someone is going to be out sometime."
City officials said the staffing decision has worked: Violent crime dropped 5.4 percent in 2005, and last year Austin was declared the third-safest major U.S. city, according to FBI data.
Rudy Garza, the assistant city manager, said the department also has stayed within its budget and paid for the growing overtime costs by squeezing other police programs.
Still, overtime costs shot up almost immediately.
From fiscal year 2001 to 2002, the amount the department spent on overtime for street patrols jumped from $690,000 to $1.8 million, a 161 percent increase.
The number of overtime hours rose 144 percent, from 21,075 in 2001 to 51,413 the next year.
Then in 2004, the city eliminated a cadet class, which
meant fewer officers were hired on average each year to replace those who retired or left for other reasons.
Futrell said Knee recommended the move so the city could save about $1 million a year at a time when officials were slashing programs in every city department after the dot-com bust.
The Police Department also cut $4.5 million in other costs that year and slashed 43 civilian positions.
Futrell said that adding a second cadet class should help decrease the use of overtime over the next year.
The department expects to add about 70 officers when the current cadet class graduates later this month and another 70 when the newly created class, which will start in August, graduates next spring.
Because the city doesn't know how many officers it will lose to attrition by then, Futrell can't say how the new graduates will affect the department's overtime budget — or whether they'll give the department enough officers to always reach the 80 percent staffing goal for all shifts.
The city has budgeted 1,435 officer positions and now has 1,328.
Patrol officers 'adjust'
Among the officers who worked the most overtime in 2005, Cpl. John Coffey made the most money, according to payroll records.
He earned $78,449 in regular pay, plus $60,198 in overtime for an average 55-hour workweek. Coffey also received $6,804 for "miscellaneous allowances," such as cell phone money and a bonus for having a college education, bringing his total income to $145,451.
Knee, who resigned last month, earned about $153,000 last year.
Coffey made headlines in 2002 after he fatally shot Sophia King, a mentally ill woman in East Austin who witnesses said was standing over her apartment manager wielding a knife. A Travis County grand jury did not indict him on any charge and he was not disciplined in the shooting.
He and eight of the department's other officers who earned more than $100,000 last year declined to comment.
Sergeants such as Fred Toler appreciate officers willing to work the extra hours.
Last month, Toler, who works in Northwest Austin, said he is supposed to have seven officers per shift to be fully staffed, but one is in the military and was sent to Afghanistan in March, and another officer was injured and will be out until later this month. Another is in special training for the next year.
And that doesn't count officers calling in sick or taking vacation.
"I do my best to fill it, and if I don't, my officers know I did the best I could," Toler said. "We just operate short-handed, and they understand that. We adjust."
Sergeants in charge of scheduling patrol shifts said they will continue to call on officers such as Martin, and he said he will keep working overtime as long as he has the energy — and a checking account that could use the boost.
But, he said, "I think everyone is in agreement. We want more people."
Highest-paid Austin patrol officers in 2005
Cpl. John Coffey - Total Pay: $145,45
Det. Terence Meadows - Total Pay: $128,078
Cpl. Jeff Koble - Total Pay: $126,287
Cpl. Gary Newberg - Total Pay: $123,772
Officer James Schramm - Total Pay: $120,900
Officer Robert Schmitt - Total Pay: $119,833
Cpl. Jorge Carvalho - Total Pay: $118,924
Officer Jonathan Martin - Total Pay: $117,345
Officer Alejandro Sanchez - Total Pay: $115,426
Cpl. George Jackoskie - Total Pay: $112,585
Other reasons for overtime
The $3.9 million Austin police spent last year to put more officers on the streets is the biggest piece of the department's overtime budget, but it's not the only piece. Last year, the department spent $10.3 million overall for overtime, up from $4.9 million in 2001.
These are some of the other duties that have helped push up overtime costs, along with the total amount of overtime money spent for each in 2005:
•Additional work hours — $804,255. Paid to officers for extra work at the end of shifts such as writing reports or booking a suspect into jail.
•Court appearances — $544,199. A contract between the city and the Austin Police Association says officers must be paid at least three hours of overtime if they have to show up for court more than an hour before going on duty.
•Special assignments — $783,312. Officers can earn overtime for assignments such as a recent effort in
Northeast Austin to reduce property crime and a citywide effort to reduce traffic deaths.
•Special events — $669,729. These are major city events such as Mardi Gras and the South by Southwest Music Festival that need officers for traffic control and security.
•Reimbursed special events — $2.6 million. Organizers of other big events, such as last month's World Congress on Information Technology and the annual Capitol 10,000 race, reimbursed the city for officers' time.

Click here for the full story as reported in the Austin American Statesman

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Austin Police Commander arrested for DWI

The Austin American Statesman reported that an Austin police commander was arrested and charged with drunken driving Sunday night after he crashed his car into a ditch at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Cmdr. James O'Leary, 61, who supervises the department's training division, was arrested about 8:30 p.m. Sunday and booked into the Travis County Jail about 90 minutes later, authorities said. He was released on bail Monday afternoon.
Assistant Police Chief David Carter said O'Leary has been placed on restricted duty pending the outcome of the criminal and internal investigations into the accident. O'Leary could not be reached for comment Monday.
Airport spokeswoman Leslie Schneiweiss said O'Leary crashed his white 1995 Lincoln Town Car into a ditch near a parking lot on Presidential Boulevard.
The car sustained minimal damage, and O'Leary was not injured, she said.
According to the arrest affidavit, an airport police officer said O'Leary smelled of alcohol, his eyes were bloodshot, watery and glassy, his speech was mumbled and confused, and his balance was wobbling on the field sobriety tests.
Schneiweiss said airport police arrived a short time later and performed a field sobriety test on O'Leary. She would not say whether a blood alcohol test was performed.
O'Leary took two breath tests. On the first he blew 0.213. On the second -- 0.212. Both are more than two times the legal limit of 0.08. I guess he forgot he could refuse the breath test.
"He cooperated 100 percent," she said. "He never mentioned anything about his affiliation with APD. As far as our officers are concerned, it was a standard DWI arrest."
O'Leary, a former Army lieutenant colonel and a Vietnam veteran, has been with the department for 25 years and also worked on the department's crowd management team.
As you may remember, a federal jury ruled this year that he did not use excessive force when he used pepper spray during an anti-war demonstration on Congress Avenue the day after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
O'Leary is on paid restrictive duty until the investigation is complete. His future is uncertain.
APD has no set policy on what punishment officers accused of a crime will face. Each is dealt with on an individual basis.
In the past six years, eight Austin police officers have been arrested for DWI. Last year, of the 22 officers who faced some sort of discipline, one was for DWI, that officer was suspended for 42 days.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Diet mixers make people drunk faster

The Scotsman News just reported that DIET mixers in alcoholic drinks get people drunk quicker than full-sugar alternatives, scientists have found.

Taking a drink with sugar-free versions of mixers, such as tonic water, cola, bitter lemon and lemonade, produces higher blood-alcohol levels.
The findings were revealed by Dr Chris Rayner, of the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Australia, at a conference in the United States. Dr Rayner, the lead author of the study, found that combining alcohol with a mixer containing artificial sweeteners resulted in significantly higher levels of blood-alcohol than the same drink taken with an ordinary mixer.
The blood-alcohol concentration peaked at 66 per cent higher, according to a study in which volunteers were given an orange-flavoured vodka drink made with either a diet or non-diet mixer.
An alcohol counselling organisation warned that people choosing to have a diet mixer should be aware of the effect.
Dr Rayner, appearing yesterday at Digestive Disease Week, a conference in Los Angeles, said:
"More and more people are choosing diet drinks as a healthier alternative.
"What people do not understand is the potential side-effects that diet-mixed alcoholic drinks may have on their body's response to alcohol."
Researchers studied eight volunteers, tracking the rate at which the regular and diet alcoholic drink was emptied from the stomach and their subsequent blood-alcohol levels for three hours.
It took 21 minutes for half the diet drink to leave the stomach, compared with regular drinks, which took 36 minutes.
Peak blood-alcohol concentrations were found to be "substantially greater" with diet drinks at 0.05 per cent, while regular drinks measured at 0.03 per cent.
Dr Peter Rice, a senior Dundee University psychiatry lecturer specialising in alcohol misuse, said the key advice to people was to know their own limits.
However, Dr Rice added the main factor affecting absorption of alcohol was still likely to be the amount of food in the stomach.
Paul Waterson, of the Scottish Licensed Traders Association, said it was already known that fizzy drinks increased the rate of alcohol absorption.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Overtime on DWI cases inflates one Officer's salary to $172,000

As a senior officer in the Houston Police Department, William Lindsey Jr. received a salary of about $72,000 last year.
Because he is on the department's DWI Task Force, however, Lindsey's overtime pay put him at an income level rivaling Mayor Bill White and Police Chief Harold Hurtt.
The 27-year HPD veteran grossed more than $100,000 in overtime pay in 2005, and he wasn't the only task force member pulling in a six-figure income.
Two others in the unit, including Lindsey's supervisor, were boosted above the $100,000 income level last year with significant help from overtime pay.
Though police and prosecutors defend the hefty overtime as an effective means of getting drunken drivers off Houston's streets, critics of the practice say many of those hours are an unnecessary expense that increases the risk of putting physically and mentally fatigued officers on duty.
Lindsey's total income of more than $172,576 from HPD last year put his pay above White's $165,000 but below Hurtt's $184,000. The mayor and police chief are not eligible for overtime pay.
Among the other task force members with six-figure incomes in 2005 was Lindsey's supervisor, Sgt. Edward Robinson, whose $76,055 in overtime pay boosted his overall compensation to $161,722.
Senior police officers like Lindsey are paid roughly $50,000 to $70,000 in salary, before overtime, depending on various incentives for education and certifications, according to employee records obtained by the Houston Chronicle.
The police department was still working late last week to compile a list of DWI Task Force members. But the Chronicle confirmed the names of at least eight officers who were in the unit during 2005.
Those officers were paid a total of $317,000 in overtime last year. That figure made up 38 percent of their total compensation, which averaged about $103,000.
In addition to the more than $100,000 in overtime pay he collected in 2005, Lindsey was paid more than $85,000 in overtime in 2004. He refused to comment last week on his overtime or on a disciplinary record that includes a 15-day suspension in 1990 for submitting inaccurate overtime pay requests.
Police chief unconcerned. Hurtt, who learned about the high overtime pay after Chronicle inquiries, said he doesn't worry about the public's perception of the spending.
"If the officer is truly earning it, I think the public is well-aware of the staffing levels at the Houston Police Department," he said, referring to manpower shortages that have sparked other overtime programs since Hurricane Katrina evacuees came to town. "And I also think the public is well-aware that certain officers have special training."
Police officials say the overtime pay for the DWI Task Force is necessary because of the nature of the job, which requires officers to work nights — when more drunken drivers are out — and then testify in daytime court hearings for previous arrests.
A typical task force officer works from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Some then have to go to various courts for hearings on weekday mornings, said Lt. Robert Manzo, a police spokesman.
In such cases, they are paid overtime for court appearances and, often, for the period between their night shifts and the hearings. Still others work overtime shifts on their days off.
The system is laid out in the officers' collective-bargaining agreement, which was negotiated with the city while Lee Brown, a former police chief, was mayor.
HPD's budget director, Larry Yium, said officers' salaries and court overtime are paid out of the general fund, the tax- and fee-supported portion of the budget that covers most city operating costs. Currently, the department is using two grants totalling $257,000 from the Texas Department of Transportation to reimburse overtime costs associated with DWI enforcement, he said.
Yium said he isn't surprised that some officers get large overtime payments.
"I'm aware that we have officers who approach this number because of the nature of their assignments," he said. "We always periodically look at that to make sure they're working within their guidelines and it's something that the supervisors and others can justify."
Manzo said adding officers to the task force wouldn't cut overtime costs.
"If we doubled the size of the DWI Task Force, then we would presumably have double the number of subpoenas, which would mean the amount of paid overtime for going to court would double," he said.
Officers are prohibited from working more than 16 hours in a 24-hour period, Manzo said, or more than 80 hours in a workweek, without a shift supervisor's approval.
Defense attorneys who specialize in DWI cases contend some task force members manipulate arrests to accumulate overtime.

"They switch defendants or piggyback on each other's cases," said lawyer J. Gary Trichter.
"They get additional officers involved, because it bolsters (the DWI case), which is valid."
But, in many cases, he added, task force members bring in other officers who collect overtime for their involvement, although they were not really needed.
Marc Brown, who heads the misdemeanor division at the Harris County District Attorney's Office, said DWI cases often require more than one officer to appear in court. Prosecutors, for example, need the testimony of the arresting officer, who may have relied on help from a colleague with the specialized training to give a field sobriety test.
This is especially true with officers in a large city, as opposed to those from suburban departments, Brown said. The sheer number of Houston patrol officers means many aren't specialized to handle drunken-driving cases they encounter on patrol. State law requires certification for officers to conduct breath tests. Special training also is required for officers to know what to look for when conducting eye tests of suspected drunken drivers.
Other agencies streamlined
However, unlike Houston police, most DWI cases filed by Texas Department of Public Safety troopers are handled by one trooper, said DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange.
She added that, even with two-person units, one trooper will work the DWI investigation while the other directs traffic. Only the investigator goes to court in most cases, she said.
"I'm not aware of situations where there would be multiple troopers testifying, unless one trooper saw the original (offense) and someone else backed him up," Mange said. "But that would be very unusual."
She noted that, unlike HPD, the DPS requires all troopers to be certified in field-sobriety testing and operating breath-test machines.
"It only takes one DPS trooper to make an arrest," Trichter said. "But with the HPD task force, they get at least three, sometimes four, people involved."
In many cases, all of those officers testify at trial, where they compile more overtime hours, Trichter said.
Hans Marticiuc, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union, said Lindsey's overtime pay doesn't concern him.
"I don't know how else you get around that," he said. "He's certainly deserving of the overtime if he's making the arrests and (prosecutors) are putting him on the trial docket.
"If you're working it, then you have a right to it," Marticiuc said. "It's good for him and certainly a benefit to the public if he's getting drunks off the streets."
Houston police made almost 12,600 DWI arrests in 1985, but the total had dropped by about half by 2004, according to HPD statistics. The district attorney's office does not keep statistics on DWI conviction rates, Brown said.
The decline in drunken-driving arrests has been attributed largely to changing social norms.
In the courtroom
Last week, at least two DWI cases in which task force members testified ended in acquittal.
Defense lawyer Sam Adamo, who represented one defendant, said he and other DWI specialists have been attempting to inform jurors about the task force and the overtime pay, but they often are blocked by judges and prosecutors.
"These guys are like small-town speed traps," Adamo said. "Regular officers have to work extra jobs. But these (task force) guys don't have to, because they're making so much money coming down to the courthouse."
Hurtt said that practice, if true, would concern him.
"What we'll do is have supervisors do an audit of their citations," he said, "and if it's occurring, we'll take corrective action."

Austin's Nightclub Dallas WINS!

Friday, a judge ruled against the TABC in every single complaint made at Austin's Dallas Nightclub. It could not have gone worse for the TABC.

Fate of Dallas' liquor license now in hands of TABC.
An administrative law judge recommended Friday that Dallas Night Club keep its liquor license, saying that the evidence presented in a January hearing did not support the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's bid to stop the club from serving alcohol.
Judge Sharon Cloninger ruled that the commission failed to prove that Dallas bartenders knowingly served alcohol to intoxicated persons or that its weekly 69-cent drink special induced customers to drink excessively or prevented employees from adequately monitoring customers' drinking.
You can Download the judge's ruling here:

The commission declined to comment on Cloninger's 43-page decision. The three-member commission will make the final decision on whether to cancel Dallas' license.

"I regret that we had to go this far, but we're comfortable that we've been vindicated and we're going to rebuild our clientele and our business," said Betty Jensen, president of Cowpoke Inc., which runs the club on Burnet Road.
It's the latest setback for an agency whose recent undercover operations in bars across Texas have brought loud complaints from bar owners, patrons and local tourism officials — and prompted state lawmakers to hold a hearing earlier this week on the tactics.
The commission recently suspended the program that sent commission agents and local police into bars to arrest what they said were intoxicated patrons. Commission officials are reviewing the program, which was announced Aug. 26.
Dallas became a target of the undercover stings after it appeared at the top of an Austin police
list of bars where people arrested on suspicion of drunken driving said they consumed their last drink. Commission agents and Austin police conducted frequent undercover operations at Dallas, arresting patrons for public intoxication and accusing bartenders of selling alcohol to intoxicated people and the club's manager of inducing customers to drink excessively, a violation of TABC rules.
Dallas fired back last week, filing a federal lawsuit accusing the commission of unfairly targeting the club and using an inconsistent standard to decide when patrons are drunk.
The three-day hearing before Cloninger in January focused on three undercover operations that agents and police conducted at the club on Wednesday nights, when the club holds its drink special, in March, May and July 2005.
During the stings, Dallas customers were arrested on charges of public intoxication and bartenders accused of serving an intoxicated person were cited.
In one case, a bartender was accused after a patron was arrested for public intoxication in the parking lot — he had fallen asleep in his car with the engine running. Cloninger wrote that there was no evidence that the man was visibly "intoxicated to the degree that he may endanger himself or another person" when he was served beers inside the club.
Cloninger noted that on three nights when the club was crowded with hundreds of people, its capacity is 885, commission agents and Austin police arrested only one customer for public intoxication each night.
Agents and officers testified during the January hearing that they saw many more intoxicated patrons in the bar on those nights. The judge quoted one police detective who "said she saw an estimated 20 to 30 publicly intoxicated patrons over (a) four-hour period, but did not identify any of the patrons or describe any of the signs of intoxication she observed, except to say some of the patrons were holding longnecks or drinks."
"I think this was the right decision," said Dallas manager Bill Thompson, who said he left the state in February in part because of commission pressure on the club. "It was never our drink special that put us in the unfavorable position we found ourselves in. It was selective enforcement."

Monday, April 17, 2006

The TABC’s undercover sting operation regarding public intoxication tickets is now suspended

Agents claimed they could spot drunk people in bars and restaurants just by looking at them.
They’ve made more than 2,000 arrests in the past six months.
For months, there has been criticism about TABC agents going into bars and restaurants and hauling people off to jail.
The agents claimed they could look at people and determine they were drunk and a danger to themselves or others.
Some say this is an abuse of power, and now two senators say this sting operation needs to be reviewed.
Senators John Whitmire and Kino Flores have called for a joint committee hearing to look at the program.
The committees will meet Monday.
One of the hardest hit clubs in Austin is the Dallas Night Club. They’ve seen their business drop-off by more than 80 percent.
Agents were coming into the club and taking customers out to the parking lot for sobriety tests and often times, taking them to jail.
On Wednesday night, management of the Dallas Night Club responded to suspension of the TABC operation.
“We’re ecstatic. We’ve been trying to do something about it for the past year. It’s killed our business. People are scared to come out. I don’t even drink, and I’m scared to go out. And it’s not right. We don’t want to put drunks on the road, but we don’t want people to be afraid to do something that’s legal. If they don’t want people drinking, they should outlaw alcohol,” Scott Bennett with the Dallas Night Club said.
The TABC’s undercover operation has resulted in more than 2,200 public intoxication arrests in the past six months. That’s more than double the amount from the same time last year.

Dallas nightclub sues state agency

Austin bar claims TABC overstepped its authority with undercover stings
Dallas Night Club is suing the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, accusing the state agency of unfairly targeting the bar and using an inconsistent standard to decide when patrons are legally drunk.
"The TABC has embarked on a deliberate and knowing course of conduct to drive Dallas out of business," says the lawsuit, which attorney Jesse R. Castillo said was mailed to U.S. District Court in Austin on Monday. "Dallas has lost the bulk of its clientele and millions of dollars in revenue."
Similar operations in other parts of the state have brought a backlash against the commission from tourism officials, lawmakers and others.
The agency said Wednesday that it has suspended its crackdown on public intoxication after a public outcry. Spokeswoman Carolyn Beck told The Associated Press that the commission put the program on hold "to give us time to sift through all the information we've received and pull together all the information and determine the best way to proceed."
The lawsuit filed Monday seeks unspecified damages and claims the commission's enforcement efforts are unconstitutional.
Since Dallas appeared at the top of an Austin police list of bars where people arrested on suspicion of drunken driving said they consumed their last drink, the nightclub on Burnet Road has been in the cross hairs of the commission. Along with Austin police, the agency's agents have conducted numerous undercover operations at Dallas, arresting patrons for public intoxication and accusing bartenders of selling alcohol to intoxicated people and the club's manager of inducing customers to drink excessively, both violations of beverage commission rules.
This week's lawsuit follows an administrative hearing in January in which commission officials argued that Dallas' liquor license should be canceled. An administrative judge is expected to make a recommendation to the commission this month.
Commission officials have said that the club has not done enough to address concerns about its drink promotions, particularly the weekly 69-cent drink special.
Dallas argues in its lawsuit that the agency "is arbitrary and inconsistent in the standard it uses to define 'intoxication.' "
Police can charge someone for drunk driving if the person has a blood alcohol level of .08, while a
public intoxication arrest requires finding that a person is "a clear danger to themselves or others," the lawsuit says.
Commission agents overstepped their authority by using the DWI standard to arrest Dallas patrons in its stings, the lawsuit says.
"We'd rather not be here, but we didn't have a choice," said Betty Jensen, president of Cowpoke Inc., which runs Dallas.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Legislative Committee is going to review TABC's tactics

Public outrage and the potential for lost business caused by state regulators arresting bar patrons for being intoxicated prompted a key lawmaker on Tuesday to call for a suspension of the program pending a review by the Texas Legislature.
"Based on what I'm hearing from my constituents and from all across the state, this is a good time to put this program on hold until we have an opportunity to review it," said state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, vice chairman of the House committee that oversees the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. "I'm getting a lot of calls and e-mails, and it's absolutely all negative."
The commission has garnered national publicity in recent days over its stepped-up enforcement program called Sales to Intoxicated Persons, or SIPs, where undercover officers observe customers in bars and taverns and arrest those who appear drunk. Bartenders and wait staff who serve intoxicated patrons are also subject to arrest.
Carolyn Beck, a spokeswoman for the TABC, said the SIPs program has been around for several years. But the agency has beefed it up after lawmakers last year authorized the hiring of more than 100 additional employees to force compliance with state laws governing alcohol use.
"Our focus is public safety," Beck said. "We intervene when it appears that someone is a danger to himself or others because of being intoxicated in a public place."
Geren, whose Fort Worth barbecue restaurants serve alcohol, said his employees are trained to identify when a patron is becoming intoxicated and will cut them off without hesitation.
The House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee, of which Geren is vice chairman, will hold a hearing on the SIPs program April 17 in Austin.
The program has its supporters, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which regularly lobbies the Legislature to take measures to end Texas' distinction of having the highest DWI fatality rate in the nation.
But critics have pointed out that the program could cost Texas valuable convention business, especially considering that many arrests have occurred in hotel cocktail lounges where patrons planned to travel no farther than the elevator that would take them to their rooms. In other instances, people were arrested even though they had been accompanied by a designated driver, according to reports.
Phillip Jones, president of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the program has the potential to devastate the Texas tourism and convention industry.
"I just got an e-mail from someone who said he was considering bringing a convention with 25,000 people to Dallas," Jones said. "He told me that until you guys fix this problem, no city in Texas is even going to be on the list."
Jones said that the convention industry pumps more than $8 billion annually into the North Texas economy, and that the cocktail hour is often integral to the experience.
"That's where people relax, socialize and network," Jones said. "They have a right to do that without fear of being arrested."
Under Texas law, anyone with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher is considered too drunk to drive. The legal definition of public intoxication is "not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties because of alcohol or drug use."
Public intoxication is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500. A law enforcement officer has the discretion of issuing a citation or making an arrest.
When the program gained attention last week, TABC Administrator Alan Steen sent a memo to state lawmakers listing the agency's justifications for stepping up enforcement.
"Just because someone is not driving or has a designated driver, it does not make it legal to become intoxicated in a public place to the extent that the person may be a danger to him/herself or others," Steen's memo said.
Geren and other lawmakers said that while they have no sympathy for drunken drivers, they are concerned by what appears to be heavy-handed tactics against otherwise law-abiding citizens who are enjoying a night out.
"I'm from a pretty conservative district, but I haven't heard from anybody who supports this," said state Rep. Toby Goodman, R-Arlington.
Kathy Walt, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, said the governor's office has received more than 140 calls and letters concerning the SIPs program, all of them critical.
Beck, the TABC's spokeswoman, said that the agency's enforcement also includes aggressive steps to curtail underage drinking, even though it often goes unpublicized.
"We have a hot line staffed 24 hours a day where someone can report pasture parties and other events where minors are drinking illegally, and we will respond and take action," she said.
Geren said he would do nothing to discourage the effort to combat underage drinking or to interfere with enforcing DWI laws.
"I've even heard from people who say they don't drink and want a crackdown on drunken driving but think that this is going too far," Geren said.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Lakeway Police Officer Arrested for DWI

A Lakeway police officer was on restrictive duty Thursday following his arrest on charges of driving while intoxicated.

According to an arrest affidavit, Bryan McCannon, 30, was intoxicated at nearly two times the legal limit.

He was off-duty when he arrested Saturday night.

The sheriff's office says McCannon was involved in a head-on collision with minor injuries along F.M. 2769 in Travis County.

When deputies arrived, they determined he was intoxicated and arrested him.
This will likely be the second Lakeway officer terminated by the Lakeway Police Department in the last few months. Things seem to be out of control out there.
Click here for the full story as reported by KVUE television station.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The University of Texas has a new police chief

Former Austin Police Department Assistant Police Chief Robert Dahlstrom is the new UT police chief.

Dahlstrom faces many new challenges. During the interview process many in the UT community expressed concerns over off-campus safety in highly populated student areas.

Student government suggested joint jurisdiction between APD and UTPD.

“I think the joint jurisdiction would be a very difficult thing to do. You have two different radio communications, you have two different 911 calls that come in.

You have different policies,” Dahlstrom said.

Dahlstrom is the fourth person to serve as UT’s police chief since the department was created in the late 1960s.

The biggest problem on campus other than minor theft is alcohol, Dahlstrom said. And, he adds, alcohol can lead to more violent crime.

The most recent UTPD crime statistics show 314 arrests and 330 referrals for liquor law violations in 2004.

“And tell them exactly the downfalls of drinking where you lose control of your judgment and make bad judgments that can affect you for the rest of your life,” Dahlstrom said.

“It’s always had a very good reputation being a good department and I hope to continue that reputation and keep it good,” Dahlstrom said.

Click here for the full story

Friday, March 24, 2006

Ken is interviewed on KXAN

If you have a drink in an Austin bar or restaurant, and you do something out of the ordinary, you could go to jail.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission says they can spot people who’ve had too much to drink, just by looking at them.

It’s an issue creating a lot of controversy. It’s also creating a lot of arrests.

The TABC sting operation has increased arrests by 95 percent.

Agents are going into bars and restaurants looking for folks who are a danger to themselves or others.

When they spot someone drawing attention to themselves, that person is likely headed to jail.
“Don’t do anything more than anyone around you in a bar is doing,” TABC spokeswoman Carolyn Beck said.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission are sending agents into bars to ticket people who have had too much to drink.

How can they tell? Simply, they look at you.

“You may be arrested and taken to jail and get a citation as well, It’s the officer’s discretion,” Beck said.
TABC busts are up 95 percent over the last year. Legal experts say there’s a reason for that.

“TABC is trying to justify their existence. They think that it is a politically popular thing to get out there and arrest folks,” defense attorney Ken Gibson said.

Gibson says the method TABC agents use to determine if you’re drunk is nothing short of harassment. If you do anything out of the ordinary, they’ll haul you outside for a field sobriety test.

“It’s the old, ‘I’ll know it when I see it.’ standard, and that’s not enough. There’s got to be more to it than that,” Gibson said.

The TABC insists agents can spot people who are a danger to themselves or others just by looking at them. They stand out. They’re a spectacle and easy to spot.

“Someone catches the attention of an agent in a bar, it means they’ve done something beyond what every other person in that bar who is also drinking has done. They’ve done something to bring attention to themselves,” Beck said.

That’s a claim Gibson doesn’t buy and says the conviction rate of these tickets and TABC’s ultimate success will be extremely low.

“They’re going to have a difficult time proving this person was a danger to himself or others when he’s sitting in a bar, not bothering anybody,” Gibson said.

Defense attorneys News 36 spoke with say they expect the conviction rates of these tickets to be less than 10 percent.

The TABC says their ultimate goal is to reduce over serving by bartenders and to prevent drunk driving.

That’s an issue everyone seems to agree on. It is the method the agents are using that’s drawing the most criticism.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

22 Austin Police Officers were suspended in the last 5 months of 2005

Twenty-two Austin Police officers have been reprimanded and suspended for departmental violations ranging from unnecessary use of force and public intoxication to falling asleep on duty, according to disciplinary memos issued by the Civil Service Commission from August through December 31.

Among the circumstances surrounding the suspensions of the last five months of 2005 are:

•Sgt. Daniel Armstrong was suspended in November for 42 days for driving while intoxicated when off-duty. An officer found Armstrong in the Cedar Park Post Office parking lot asleep behind the wheel of his Ford F-150 pickup, the report states. Armstrong was given a $257 public intoxication ticket.

Armstrong said in an interview that he embarrassed himself and the department.

"I deserved every one of those 42 days," the 12-year-Austin police department veteran said. But he added, "When police are disciplined, I ask that the public does not crucify them but think instead about what we deal with on a daily basis."

•Detective Ralph Tijerina was suspended for 25 days in December for driving in an impaired state in Hitchcock, near Houston.

•Officer Julie Schroeder was indefinitely suspended in November for
violating the police department's use of force policy when she fatally shot

Daniel Rocha on June 9. Schroeder shot Rocha during a scuffle after she lost her Taser.

Schroeder, who was later fired, didn't use the minimum level of force necessary to arrest Rocha, she violated the Taser policy by carrying her Taser inappropriately and she violated the department's video recording policy, the report said.

•Sgt. Don Doyle was suspended for 28 days in November for failing to use his mobile video/audio recording equipment to tape Rocha's traffic stop.

•Officer Joseph Swann was indefinitely suspended in August for grabbing a man's crutches and pushing him to the ground during a March 20 traffic stop.

•Sgt. Kevin Leverenz was suspended for 15 days for not turning on his in-car video camera after he had issued a man two citations.

Leverenz assaulted the man, whom he says made an obscene gesture at him, but he failed to document the incident and lied about his encounter with the man, according to the report.

•Detective Robert Hightower was suspended for 90 days in December for making inappropriate comments to and engaging in inappropriate behavior with his co-workers.

•Cpl. Andrew Haynes was suspended for three days in October for making inappropriate comments to a man during a traffic stop in the 1800 block of East 12th Street on April 19.

•Officer Ewa Wegner was suspended for 10 days, and her former partner, Officer Charlie Maestas Jr., was suspended for five when the department discovered they had run up $7,579.16 in cell phone charges between 2004 and 2005.

Both Wegner and Maestas admitted that they used the phones for personal calls and that they did not reimburse the city for expenses incurred, the report states.

•Officer Gregory Thornton was suspended for 10 days for parking his car outside of a motel where his girlfriend's car was parked and waited for her while he was off-duty.

Thornton followed the man who had been with her, the report said, and obtained his license plate number. When Thornton was on-duty July 28, he checked the man's warrants, driver's license number and address.

•Officer Robert Cortez was indefinitely suspended in November for neglect of duty and insubordination. A month after he was put on a personal improvement plan, he called or text-messaged his girlfriend 25 times during his patrol shift, actions taped by the video and audio systems in his car.

Cortez was also disciplined for failing to respond to calls and taking too long to write reports.

•In July, Officer Jared Tucker was driving west on RM 12 in Hays County when he tried to pass three vehicles traveling in the same direction when it wasn't safe to do so.

Tucker caused a wreck but didn't check on the crash victim and mitigated his responsibility when Department of Public Safety officials questioned him about his role in the incident, the report states. He was suspended for 90 days.

Click here for the full story as reported in the Austin American Statesman

Ambien and Alcohol

With a tendency to stare zombie-like and run into stationary objects, a new species of impaired motorist is hitting the roads: the Ambien driver.

Ambien, the nation's best-selling prescription sleeping pill, is showing up with regularity as a factor in traffic arrests, sometimes involving drivers who later say they were sleep-driving and have no memory of taking the wheel after taking the drug.

In some state toxicology laboratories Ambien makes the top 10 list of drugs found in impaired drivers. Wisconsin officials identified Ambien in the bloodstreams of 187 arrested drivers from 1999 to 2004.

And as a more people are taking the drug — 26.5 million prescriptions in this country last year — there are signs that Ambien-related driving arrests are on the rise. In Washington State, for example, officials counted 78 impaired-driving arrests in which Ambien was a factor last year, up from 56 in 2004.

Ambien's maker, Sanofi-Aventis, says the drug's record after 13 years of use in this country shows it is safe when taken as directed. But a spokeswoman, Melissa Feltmann, wrote in an e-mail message, "We are aware of reports of people driving while sleepwalking, and those reports have been provided to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as part of our ongoing postmarketing evaluation about the safety of our products."

A spokeswoman for the F.D.A. said the drug's current label warnings, which say it should not be used with alcohol and in some cases could cause sleepwalking or hallucinations, were adequate. "People should be aware of that," said the spokeswoman, Susan Cruzan.

While alcohol and other drugs are sometimes also involved in the Ambien traffic cases, the drivers tend to stand out from other under-the-influence motorists. The behavior can include driving in the wrong direction or slamming into light poles or parked vehicles, as well as seeming oblivious to the arresting officers, according to a presentation last month at a meeting of forensic scientists.

"These cases are just extremely bizarre, with extreme impairment," said Laura J. Liddicoat, the forensic toxicology supervisor at a state-run lab in Wisconsin who made the presentation.

Her presentation, which reported on six of the cases, was made at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, where her counterparts from other parts of the country swapped similar tales.

Several of Ms. Liddicoat's cases involved drivers whose blood revealed evidence of Ambien overdoses. In one of them the driver, who was also taking the antidepressant citalopram, crashed into a parked car, was involved in another near collision, then drove over a curb. When confronted by police, he did not recall any of the recent events, according to the presentation.

Ms. Liddicoat did not describe any of those cases as sleep-driving — in fact, she said she had not heard of that defense — and it is possible that some drivers' claims of driving while asleep may be mere Ambien alibis.

But some medical researchers say reports of sleep-driving are plausible.

Doctors affiliated with the University of Minnesota Medical Center who have studied Ambien recently reported the cases of two users who told doctors they sleep-drove to the supermarket while under the drug's influence. Neither of the patients remembered the episode the next day, according to Dr. Carlos Schenck, an expert in sleep disorders who is the lead researcher in the study.

"Luckily, neither of them got hurt," said Dr. Schenck, who added that sleep-driving — which really occurs in a twilight state between sleep and wakefulness — was more common than people generally suspect. He said he believed that Ambien was an excellent sleep agent, but that patients need to be better warned about its potential side effects.

The traffic cases around the country include that of Dwayne Cribb, a longtime probation and parole officer in Rock Hill, S.C. Mr. Cribb says he remembers nothing after taking Ambien before bed last Halloween — until he awoke in jail to learn he had left his bed and gone for a drive, smashed into a parked van and driven away before crashing into a tree.

Mr. Cribb is still facing charges of leaving the scene of an accident.

A registered nurse who lives outside Denver took Ambien before going to sleep one night in January 2003. Sometime later — she says she remembers none of the episode — she got into her car wearing only a thin nightshirt in 20-degree weather, had a fender bender, urinated in the middle of an intersection, then became violent with police officers, according to her lawyer.

The woman, whose lawyer says she previously had a pristine traffic record, eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of careless driving after the prosecutors partly accepted her version of events, said the lawyer, Lloyd L. Boyer.

Many states do not currently test for Ambien when making impaired- driving arrests. But a survey still under way by a committee from the forensic sciences group and the Society of Forensic Toxicologists found that among laboratories that conduct tests of drivers' blood samples for two dozen states, 10 labs list Ambien among the top 10 drugs found in impaired drivers, according to Dr. Sarah Kerrigan, a forensic toxicologist in Houston involved in that survey.

Ms. Liddicoat, in Wisconsin, is among experts who suggest that Ambien may need a stronger warning label. Others arguing that case include doctors, Ambien users and defense lawyers.

"Doctors are handing out these drugs like Pez," said William C. Head, an Atlanta lawyer who is one of the nation's leading defense lawyers specializing in impaired-driving cases.

The F.D.A., which would have to order any labeling changes, says it is not aware of any pattern of problems with the drug. Still Ms. Cruzan, in response to a reporter's question, said the agency would look into unusual sleepwalking episodes.

Including the notifications from Sanofi, which as a matter of policy the F.D.A. declined to discuss, the agency did receive 48 "adverse event" reports in 2004 involving Ambien use without other drugs. They involved three cases of sleepwalking, six reports of hallucinations and one traffic accident.

Ambien's competitors — Lunesta by Sepracor and Sonata by King Pharmaceuticals — are not as widely used in this country, and do not seem to be cropping up with any frequency on police blotters. Ambien sales last year reached $2.2 billion, according to IMS Health. Among the three drugs, Ambien accounted for 84 percent of prescriptions dispensed.

A federal prosecutor was persuaded that Ambien played a part in a well-publicized case last summer involving not a car but an airliner. A US Airways flight from Charlotte, N.C., to London last July was diverted to Boston, after a passenger who had taken Ambien became "like the Incredible Hulk all of a sudden," according to his lawyer.

The man, Sean Joyce, a British painting contractor, became agitated, tore off his shirt and threatened to kill himself and fellow passengers, according to court documents. If convicted, Mr. Joyce could have faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail for interfering with a flight crew, according to his lawyer, Michael C. Andrews.

But under a plea agreement Mr. Joyce was sentenced to five days already served, after the prosecutor accepted his story that his eruption, which he said he could not recall at all, occurred as a result of taking one Ambien pill and drinking two individual-serving bottles of wine.

Many of the impaired-driving cases involve people who drank alcohol before taking Ambien. Mr. Cribb, for instance, said he had two beers with dinner before he took the drug and went to bed.

Sanofi-Aventis says that while sleepwalking may occur while taking Ambien, the drug may not be the cause. It also notes that the warnings with Ambien, including those in its television ads, specifically instruct patients not to use it with alcohol and to take it right before bed.

Alcohol has sometimes been shown to cause sleepwalking, and it can also magnify Ambien's effects, according to Dr. Mark Mahowald, director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center at Hennepin County Medical Center, who is also involved in Dr. Schenck's study.

In the past, the center has received grant funding from Sepracor, Lunesta's maker, but Dr. Mahowald said that none of the researchers currently received any funding from sleeping pill companies.

Ambien's alcohol warning is apparently ignored by many people. But Mr. Head, the defense lawyer, says he has concluded that no one should take Ambien the same evening they have been drinking alcohol. "Not even a toast," he said.

Mr. Head is now defending a man in Decatur, Ga., who, after having three drinks one night, said he took two Ambien and was in bed watching David Letterman's monologue on television. Without realizing it, the man says, he got back out of bed and behind the wheel and was arrested on multiple charges that included driving on the wrong side of the road.

Too many other people taking Ambien also evidently disregard the other label guidelines.

Ann Marie Gordon, manager of Washington State's toxicology lab, said that many of those arrested reported that they took Ambien while driving so it would "kick in" by the time they got home. "Hello — it kicked in before you got home?" Ms. Gordon said. "That's not a good thing. I'm amazed at the number of people who do that."

But misuse of the drug may not explain all the cases. The nurse near Denver took a single Ambien and went to bed, according to her lawyer, Mr. Boyer of Englewood, Colo. Mr. Boyer said that only when the woman returned home after her arrest did she discover a partly consumed bottle of wine on her counter — unopened when she went to bed, she said — leading her to suspect she had begun drinking after taking Ambien.

Research by Dr. Schenck and others elsewhere have found evidence that Ambien users engaged, unawares, in various middle-of-the-night behaviors. In a study published in 2001, researchers at the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center reported on five cases of unusual nighttime eating, sometimes while sleepwalking, in patients taking Ambien. The chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation for the VA North Texas Health System in Dallas, Dr. Weibin Yang, said he became aware of Ambien's potential side effects while at another hospital treating a 55-year-old patient after hip surgery.

The man, who had no history of sleepwalking, walked into a hospital corridor one night, where he urinated on the floor. On another night, he got out of bed and told nurses he was going to church. Dr. Yang said the patient was also taking other medications, but the sleepwalking stopped when Ambien was discontinued. The patient, he said, had no recollection of either event.

Dr. Yang said such experiences persuaded him that people could drive, without realizing it, after taking Ambien.

Meanwhile in South Carolina, Mr. Cribb, who has already pleaded guilty to driving under the influence, still faces a charge of leaving the scene of an accident. He says he has sworn off Ambien. "There has to be a stronger warning," he said, "about what this drug does to you."

Click here for the full story