Nassau to Keep Posting D.W.I. Suspects’ Photos

By Derrick Henry
Published: October 10, 2008

JUST over four months after Nassau County began posting photographs of drunken-driving suspects on its Web site, officials said that it was too early to tell whether the threat of shaming those drivers was working but that they intended to continue the initiative.

From May 25, when the program began, through Sept. 22, the number of drunken-driving arrests in the county increased by 5.7 percent over that period last year. The police attributed the increase in large part to extra weekend patrols from June through Labor Day that focused on drunken driving.

The initiative was a response to a police officer’s being badly injured by a drunken-driving suspect. The Web page, called the Wall of Shame, lists the names and hometowns of those arrested and is updated weekly.

In the program’s first four months, county police data showed officers had made 1,188 drunken-driving arrests, 65 more than in the same period last year.

The additional weekend patrols consisted of one sergeant and nine officers in areas identified as possible hot spots for drunken driving. A grant from the state and money from forfeitures in criminal cases were used to pay for the patrols, said Lawrence W. Mulvey, the police commissioner.

Thomas R. Suozzi, the Nassau County executive, said he would measure the success of the initiative by seeing whether there were significant changes in alcohol-related accidents and fatal accidents. But others said there were additional ways to gauge effectiveness.

Because most people would be too embarrassed to be put on the Web site a second time, one way to keep track is to see if a person’s photograph goes up more than once, said Denna Cohen, the president of the Long Island chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Elizabeth S. Kase, a lawyer who represented a woman whose photo was put on the Wall of Shame and who then had the charges dismissed, said it would be better to use the Web page upon conviction, not arrest.

“There’s no difference in the scare tactic to the general population,” she said. “There are other ways to deter crime without taking away the people’s presumption of innocence.”

Mr. Suozzi said he planned to keep the initiative going despite complaints that the Web page unfairly punishes people before their cases have gone through the legal system. “It’s a very controversial program, but it’s effective because it’s getting people talking about drunk driving,” he said. “We’re trying to institute a cultural change.”

Drunken-driving arrests in Nassau had been relatively flat since 1998. In 2007, there were 4,013 drunken-driving arrests, including 529 that involved crashes. This year through August there had been 2,876 drunken-driving arrests, an 8.9 percent increase over the same point last year, and 327 D.W.I.-related crashes, a 4.9 percent decrease.

Fatal accidents involving drunken driving increased to 30 in 2007 from 24 in 2006. This year, there were 13 fatal accidents linked to drunken driving through July, according to figures from the county police, village police and the State Police.

Mrs. Cohen said the program might have more impact on first-time offenders. Repeat offenders, she said, may require a more rigorous effort that includes jail time and monitoring. “Anything that can be done to deter a drunken driver to me is a good thing,” she said. “The only thing is the habitual drunk driver. It won’t make a difference. Habitual drunks — you can’t shame them.”

The county started the Web page after a police officer was seriously injured on the Long Island Expressway in Plainview on May 18. The officer, Kenneth J. Baribault, 30, had pulled over a drunken-driving suspect when another car, driven by Rahiem Griffin, 27, of Shirley, hit the officer’s car at 75 miles per hour as he was sitting in it, the police said. Charges against Mr. Griffin include drunken driving and vehicular assault.

Officer Baribault, who suffered brain and pelvis injuries, is undergoing rehabilitation in New Jersey.

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