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Sobriety check

Lowell police Officer Matthew Philbin, far left, conducts a field sobriety test in May 2016 during a Lake County DUI Task Force safety checkpoint on Commercial Avenue.

As people are ringing in the new year, area police have many efforts planned to keep celebrations from turning dangerous.

It should be no surprise that impaired driving will be a main focus for officers as they monitor the streets. Police have made it abundantly clear how severe the consequences can be if people get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol.

"It's not just wrong, you can kill somebody," Lake County sheriff's spokesman Emiliano Perez said of driving drunk.

The Hammond Police Department looks to prevent those situations with roving DUI patrols along with combined enforcement focusing on a variety of violations, including seatbelts and aggressive driving, Hammond police Lt. Patrick Vicari said.

The holiday weekend also will include high-visibility enforcement operations from the Lake County Traffic Safety Partnership.

"Officers will be out conducting saturation patrols to supplement regular patrol officers already on duty," said Hobart police Sgt. Ronald Russo, coordinator of the partnership.

Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties, and Merrillville and Chesterton police departments, each reported they will have additional officers conducting traffic patrols over the weekend.

Although police are putting a heavy focus on spotting drunken driving, the best way to prevent it is to not let it happen at all.

Vicari said the first thing alcohol impairs is judgment. If people have to contemplate whether they are sober enough to drive — they shouldn't get behind the wheel.

"It's just not worth it," he said.

Police said there are plenty of options to stay safe for those who plan to consume alcohol.

Officers recommend designating a driver who will stay sober, calling a taxi or using ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft.

"Uber is cheaper than jail," Chesterton Police Chief David Cincoski said.

“We are not specifically doing sobriety checkpoints, but we have added two patrol officers to a cover the 7 p.m.-to-3 a.m. shift  on New Year's Eve," Portage Police Chief Troy Williams said.

"This allows us to have additional officers during peak times, while still maintaining the minimum staffing levels. Cold weather and snow may help keep people inside, but the pitfalls are still present.

"I see some bars/restaurants have offered taxi services and/or the ability to leave one's vehicle in their parking lot overnight without it being towed.  I do think more people use Uber and Lyft nowadays.”

There is no question the risk is severe when driving impaired.

“Too often we read about a DUI crash that killed someone — you do not want to be the person that caused that," Williams said.

"It will ruin your life and destroy the family of the deceased. When in doubt, get a ride from a sober person. Be part of the solution to end DUI fatalities, not the reason."

Hobart's Russo said those planning to consume alcohol also can make arrangements to stay at the house where they are celebrating.

LaPorte County sheriff's police will have extra vehicles on the street over the weekend specifically watching for impaired drivers, LaPorte County Capt. Mike Kellems said.

He said the approach has been used during other holidays and events, and he believes the increased enforcement has been successful in reducing drunken driving incidents.

Impaired driving isn't the only dangerous situation police hope to prevent during the holiday.

Merrillville Police Chief Joseph Petruch said it's unsafe and illegal to discharge firearms to celebrate the new year.

"What goes up is going to come down," Petruch said, "We don't want some innocent person getting hurt from a stray round."

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