AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department (APD) is preparing to implement a year-long “No Refusal” program to arrest drunk drivers.
In this program, officers can obtain search warrants for blood samples from suspected impaired drivers who refuse breath or blood tests.
Beginning in October, APD will conduct “No Refusal” every Thursday through Sunday night through next September.
Myra Constable, who lost her husband in a drunk driving accident, applauds APD for expanding the program.
“I wish something like this was happening in 1999. I wish that there had been someone to pull my husband over,” Constable said. “He may have had difficulty, because of an arrest or going to jail and dealing with court costs, but he would still be alive.”
In 1999, her husband drove drunk, and his car went off the road, flew over railroad tracks and landed in a woman’s backyard. He never made it home that night.
“It is heartbreaking for me to know that my husband made that kind of decision that made an impact on my life, and on his son’s life forever,” Constable said.
APD has seen about a 28% increase in DWI-related deaths and incidents so far this year. In August, the DWI unit was suspended due to budget cuts.
“This is not related to if the [DWI unit] task force is coming back or when,” explained Det. Wuthipong Tantaksinanukij. “Those units and programs will be looked at by our executive staff.”
Senior Judge Jon Wisser of Travis County says although it’s a more time consuming program due to having to secure a warrant, it does increase probabilities of conviction and has a deterrent effect.
“If you have a blood test or breath test, the odds are greater than if you have no test at all,” said Wisser.
Due to the pandemic, there is also a backlog in cases which could also pose a problem.
“In Travis County, it has taken between six and nine months to get that blood tested, and unless they ramp up the testing, capacity or capability, things will slow up and cases will just linger longer,” Wisser said.
A spokesperson for the Travis County Attorney’s Office said, “Our office will process these arrests as we always have. We thank APD and Austin Transportation Department for their initiative to keep our roadways safe and preventing drunk drivers from getting on our roadways.”
Austin Transportation Department has set aside $185,000 to help pay for the program.
“No Refusal is not about making as many arrests as we can,” APD Assistant Chief Robin Henderson said in a press release. “It’s a deterrent to keep impaired drivers off of Austin’s roadways, and keep the public safe. No Refusal ensures that we have solid blood alcohol content evidence in every DWI arrest and, as such, enhances the ability to prosecute drunk drivers.”
According to APD, there were more than 1,250 DWI-related arrests during the No Refusal program last year.