Eleven local law enforcement agencies have teamed up to form the Okaloosa County Unified DUI Task Force, with state goals of preventive education and public safety at the forefront.
NICEVILLE — After being unveiled at a press conference Friday at Northwest Florida State College, members of the Okaloosa County Unified DUI Task Force admitted that its stated goal might be a first in the history of task forces.
"Our goal is to be, in part, unsuccessful," Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Major Eric Aden said. "I know that sounds strange, but if part of our mission fails, then that probably means we did a good job of getting the word out."
Aden’s not wrong — with stated goals of preventative education and public safety, the task force hopes they can convince drivers, through community outreach and social media, to use other means of transportation if impaired.
The public safety part of the goal will be tough for impaired drivers to avoid — 11 separate agencies pairing up to crack down on impaired drivers on six days of the year in the 2019 and 2020 calendar years that are either symbolically important or have proven to be DUI-heavy dates in the past.
The first of those dates is Saturday, the start of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Impaired Driving Campaign, which runs through New Year’s Eve.
The other dates are Feb. 2 (Super Bowl), March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day), May 5 (Cinco de Mayo) and May 23, the Saturday during Memorial Day Weekend.
The agencies participating in the task force are the Crestview Police Department, Fort Walton Beach Police Department, Niceville Police Department, Valparaiso Police Department, Shalimar Police Department, Northwest Florida State College Police Department, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Highway Patrol, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, 96th Security Forces Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base and 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron at Hurlburt Field.
According to Aden, there’s no extra money involved with forming the task force — just all agencies involved making a commitment to using their resources.
"We want to really commend these officers and these different agencies for what they’re doing," said Amy Jamieson, who represented Mothers Against Drunk Driving at the press conference. "To come together like they have and focus on cutting down on impaired drivers is going to make a huge impact."
Jamieson’s son, Timothy, was killed by a drunk driver on July 31, 1998, and she’s been involved with MADD since Oct. 1998.
She brought dozens of plush, stuffed teddy bears to hand out to the officers on Friday —meant to be given to children who were dealing with the trauma of being involved in a DUI.
Another aspect of cracking down on impaired drivers that the task force will bring into play is the use of more officers who have gone through Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) training.
"That’s useful in recognizing heroin or opioid use," Aden said. "We’re going to take advantage of the officers who have gone through the training and, hopefully, get more officers to go through that same DRE training."
As of Friday, there had already been 578 DUI arrests in Okaloosa County – up from 463 in 2018.