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Dispatchers Play Key Role In Catching Drunken Drivers

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(credit: CBS) Rachel Slavik
Rachel Slavik joined the WCCO team in October of 2010 and is thrill...
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By Rachel Slavik, WCCO-TV

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – In the effort to stop drunken driving, people often hear from law enforcement officers and groups like MADD. But dispatchers also play a crucial role in keeping the roads safe.

In honor of National Telecommunicators Week, two state patrol dispatchers were rewarded for their hard work to keep impaired drivers off the road.

Nearly every night, Minnesota State Patrol officers answer a call about a drunken driver on a Minnesota roadway. Many times those arrest start with a driver complaint to a 911 dispatcher.

“One thing over the course of my career I’ve learned is the importance of having stellar dispatchers that are able to multi task, who can help us get these impaired drivers off the road,” said Lt. Chris Erickson, a Minnesota State Trooper.

For the last seven years, dispatchers have relied on MnDOT cameras to find impaired drivers once that complaint call comes in. In 2010, it led to more than 600 DWI arrests by State Patrol, which is about 25 percent of the yearly total.

“We can’t measure the amount of people they’ve saved. We just know that their skills and with multi-tasking, we know at some point they saved a life,” said Erickson.

Once the dispatcher receives the complaint call and figures out a general location, another dispatcher will turn on the MnDOT camera to see if they can find the driver. 

“In dispatch, we do the exact same thing the callers are doing, ‘Gasp.’ We’re doing the exact same thing,” said State Patrol dispatcher Stacy Hass, when describing when they see a possible drunken driver on the road.

This type of teamwork led to two arrests this summer — a driver who was driving erratically in the Lowry Tunnel and a driver who drove the wrong way on Highway 100.

“Without the public’s help on these, we wouldn’t have been able to take these people off the road,” said Erickson.

With 140 deaths a year blamed on drunken drivers, law enforcement officers still have a long way to go.

But ask the father whose son was killed nearly two decades ago and he’ll say it’s a step in the right direction.

“Seventeen years ago, we were killing like 400 people a year and that down to like 140 now, so that’s huge progress,” said Jon Cummings, whose son was killed by a drunken driver.

If you see a drunken driver on the roads, troopers say the best information you can give is the license plate and your exact location.

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