Sunday, May 15, 2005

Hispanic Officers Target Drunk Drivers

44 percent of those arrested for DWI last year were Hispanics, police statistics show

As an Austin police lieutenant, Ernie Pedraza has watched over the years as Hispanics in the community have been arrested for drunken driving or have been killed or seriously injured in alcohol-related crashes.

Now he and other Hispanic police officers are taking action.

This month, members of Amigos en Azul, a Hispanic police officers association, are launching a campaign to educate Hispanics about the dangers of drunken driving. They are visiting Hispanic community leaders, encouraging them to help spread the word at church services, festivals and other events.

In 2004, 44 percent of those arrested for drunken driving in Austin were Hispanic, and about 30 percent of people killed in traffic accidents last year -- whether alcohol was involved or not -- were Hispanic, according to Police Department statistics.

A 2003 Austin American-Statesman analysis showed that of 3,007 drunken driving arrests in 2002, 43 percent involved Hispanic men, even though they made up only about 11 percent of Austin's driving population.

Experts and police have cited a number of factors for that disparity, including unfamiliarity with U.S. laws among immigrants. Others say Latinos tend to drink less often than Anglos but consume larger amounts when they do.

Several years ago, Mothers Against Drunk Driving started a campaign focusing on Hispanic drivers called Pasa las Llaves, or Pass the Keys.

Pedraza and other Hispanic officers are calling their effort Corazon de Azul, or Blue Heart. Blue represents the officers' uniforms; the heart stands for courage to help foster change.
They also hope to set up task forces in coming months to study the culture of drunken driving in their community.

Hispanic officers have spent years visiting schools and civic groups talking about drunken driving. But Pedraza said many audiences have heard the spiel from police officers before and are quick to tune out.

In Corazon de Azul, they are seeking the help of Hispanic community leaders who they think could have a greater impact. Pedraza is asking them to mention the dangers of drunken driving at every social event they attend.

For example, Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza, who recently spoke at a breakfast meeting with about 200 Hispanic community members, mentioned statistics about Hispanics and drunken driving.

Former Mayor Gus Garcia is among those who have offered to help.

"We can no longer ignore it and say that it doesn't exist," Garcia said. "The fact of the matter is that among Latinos, the culture encourages alcoholism.

"It's a real critical issue."

Full Story

If you have been arrested for DWI, please click here. We can help