Friday night marked the first “saturation operation” for the new DUI enforcement squad with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
This week, HCSO announced the formation of a centralized DUI squad, a dedicated unit of 20 deputies and two supervisors specially trained to detect and apprehend impaired and intoxicated drivers.
Hillsborough County often ranks as one of the worst counties in Florida for DUIs. Data from December 2018 from FDOT found Hillsborough County raked in the most DUIs statewide.
Friday, the new HCSO unit teamed up with FHP and Tampa Police for a concentrated crackdown effort across the county, focusing on the I-4 and SR 60 corridors.
HCSO says it didn’t intend to launch the new unit and saturation operation to coincide with Friday’s Lightning game and the NHL playoffs but says the coincidence further reinforces the notion that drinking and driving is never okay.
News Channel 8’s Victoria Price got to ride along with one of the DUI deputies during the first part of his Friday night patrol.
As a dedicated DUI deputy, Brian Burke says he’s seen quite a bit in his relatively short time with HCSO.
“I’ve pulled people over who were actively vomiting outside of their car,” he explained. “I don’t want to say it’s funny, because those people are very dangerous. They’re operating a 3000 pound missile at that point.”
Burke believes the new squad will be more effective because it will broaden the net of where DUI deputies can patrol. Previously, he was assigned to just one district. Now he can patrol countywide.
“I’m more worried about a DUI driver impacting my family than any other crime,” said Maj. Darrin Barlow, explaing that Hillsborough County also ranks first for number of DUI injury accidents.
He hopes this new unit isn’t just better at finding drunk drivers, he hopes it deters them from the get-go.
Luckily, Deputy Burke and News Channel 8 didn’t encounter any drunk drivers during the ride-along, just a trailer without proper lights and tags.
But as the night goes on, Burke knows the threat of drunk driving does too.
“People think it’s harmless, when in fact it’s quite easily the most dangerous thing you could do,” he said.