RUMFORD – Police departments using federal grants to cover overtime costs while combating drunken driving got a new assist this week.

The 2008 Holiday Enforcement Program grant combines safety belt and operating-under-the-influence enforcement efforts from Halloween through New Year’s Day. It means drivers can expect heightened police patrols well beyond usual crackdowns from Memorial Day through Labor Day, according to Lauren Stewart, director of the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety.

The bureau is tasked with reducing the rate of motor vehicle crashes in Maine that result in death, injuries and property damage.

“This is the first time we’ve done this and we’re excited about it,” Stewart said Wednesday afternoon. “We know that the holiday period has the biggest problems for drinking and driving, so, our objective is to get those people off the road. … The more OUI arrests they make, the happier I will be.”

The bureau receives just over $2 million annually from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for highway safety needs.

The new grant calls for OUI saturation patrols and roadblocks from Oct. 15 through Jan. 4, 2009. During November, police departments receiving the money also must conduct a few weeks of safety belt enforcement, Stewart said.

Maine has roughly 143 police departments but historically, only 70 to 75 participate in OUI crackdowns, Stewart said. Not every department has a serious OUI problem.

“If they can’t show they have an OUI problem, they won’t get the grant. But take Rumford Police Department, Rumford has a lot of bars, so they can easily sell their need for this. They definitely are deserving of the funding. If the Rumford PD asks for $5,000, we’ll look at their past (efforts) and probably give them the grant based on what they’ve said,” Stewart said.

According to Rumford police Chief Stacy Carter, who is already applying for grant money, Rumford has 14 drinking establishments.

“This past fiscal year, we charged 51 with OUI,” Carter stated in an e-mail Tuesday afternoon. “In June, we arrested seven for OUI and in July, we arrested two for OUI. Since July 1, we have also been working with two less officers, which leaves less time to focus on OUI. We have had three OUIs since the first of August.”

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