Two days before Thanksgiving, Tarrant County officials joined with area officers to announce a $300,000 grant to extend no-refusal holidays there from two to seven each year.
Now, the District Attorney's Office sends word that 49 have been charged with driving while intoxicated during the Thanksgiving holiday, the first to fall under the expanded program.
Assistant District Attorney Richard Alpert, who announced the grant last week, said there were 81 total arrests between Nov. 21 and Nov. 25. They range in age from 18 in the youngest case to 70 in the oldest.
“This is the largest number of consistent days that we’ve done this,” Alpert said. “Most of our others are strictly weekends, so I had no expectations as of the numbers.”
So-called 'no refusal' weekends make it legal for police to draw the blood of anyone suspected of driving under the influence with probable cause. Magistrates and judges are on call to review warrants of anyone suspected of drunken driving who try to opt out of a breath test. The warrant then forces them to undergo a blood test.
The grant money, in part, goes to fund that staffing and additional training for officers who are sometimes drawing blood.
The idea, says Alpert, is not to boost arrests and convictions, but to deter intoxicated individuals from getting behind the wheel in the first place. For those who do, Alpert said, the county is aggressively acquiring scientific evidence to make a conviction "not a question but a certainty."
Alpert said the cases are “consistent with previous holidays.” An above average amount of repeat offenders were arrested. Drivers with “very high” blood alcohol levels ended up cuffed at a higher rate than usual, he said. Police departments in the county’s more populous cities recorded the most arrests.
“What I take that to mean is that in terms of getting our determent message out, we are hitting everybody but the repeat offenders and the one who drinks way too much,” he said.
Part of the county’s no-refusal effort extends past the seven weekends it’s enacted. The determent push Alpert speaks of also relies on notoriety –– all who are charged end up with their names broadcasted on the district attorney’s website. The county is advertising the program to reach everyone it can.
Alpert also added the voice of Chilli Vasquez, a nine-year-old girl who was paralyzed by a man driving a vehicle near Northeast Mall with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. She helped announce the no refusal grant.
“If they didn’t want to take my word for how dangerous this was, they could take her word for it,” he said.
But this was still the first of many forthcoming no refusal weekends; Alpert even called it a “warm up” to the more dangerous stretch of the Christmas, New Years and Super Bowl holidays, all of which are now included under the county’s no refusal umbrella.
With overall DWI cases files dipping in Tarrant County, Alpert said he hopes the DA’s message resonates with the more frequent offenders.
“I wish there was a way to talk to the people arrested, if I could get these people into a room and say, ‘What’s going on here?’,” Alpert said. “I don’t get it; the cost of getting these charges is $5,000 to $6,000 to $15,000. It is much cheaper to get a cab.”