Police in suburbs beefing up patrols ahead of St. Patrick's Day
After two years of muted St. Patrick's Day revelry because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many suburban police officials are hopeful festivities this year won't get out of hand now that many public health precautions have been lifted.
"We don't know what to expect, but we hope for good decisions," said Carol Stream Police Chief Bill Holmer. "We want people to enjoy themselves, but in a smart way."
Carol Stream is one of dozens of suburban departments that have increased patrols for the next week as part of an annual statewide traffic safety initiative that targets impaired drivers as well as seat belt scofflaws.
In 2020, the year with the most recently available data, 89 departments in the six-county Chicago area issued 3,526 citations to drivers during the week around St. Patrick's Day, including 33 impaired driving arrests. That was down from 4,390 tickets issued and 69 impaired driving arrests made in 94 jurisdictions during roughly the same time period in 2019, according to Illinois Department of Transportation records.
Grants from IDOT fund these extra patrols during various holidays throughout the year that traditionally see higher-than-average crashes and fatalities.
Participating law enforcement agencies in Illinois received a combined $338,040 in 2020 to cover the overtime costs of the patrols for the week around St. Patrick's Day. Police and sheriff's offices in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties received more than $185,000 of that for 2,816 extra hours of patrol, IDOT figures show.
"St. Patrick's Day is a big drinking holiday anyway," said Sgt. Mark Wondolkowski, head of the Hoffman Estates Police Department's traffic division. "And these are the types of holidays or events where we see an increase in the number of crashes and fatalities."
Two extra four-hour shifts each day are offered to Hoffman Estates officers during the eight days the initiative is in place. This year it runs through March 18.
Wondolkowski said the initiative is not considered unsuccessful if no impaired driving arrests are made.
"These programs promote deterrence, enforcement and awareness," he said. "So, if there isn't a DUI arrest I think that tells me the deterrence is working and motorists know we are out there looking, and sometimes that's enough for them to make smarter choices."
In 2020, more than $3.4 million was paid to departments that participated in the various holiday-related and mini-enforcement campaigns, IDOT records show. But many initiatives were canceled because of the pandemic.
In 2019, law enforcement agencies statewide received more than $11.1 million in reimbursements for the special patrols that resulted in 2,118 impaired driving arrests and 186,187 total citations issued. That translates to nearly $60 reimbursed for every ticket, IDOT records show.