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Georgia State Patrol Nighthawks DUI Arrests

Georgia State Patrol and Their Special, Federally-Funded DUI Task Force Unit, the Nighthawks, Dominate Georgia DUI Arrests

By William C. Head, Atlanta DUI attorney – Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

State troopers investigate traffic crashes, and enforce traffic and criminal laws on the state’s roads. Since 2004, through a special federal funding grant, the GOHS (Governor’s Office of Highway Safety) has been funding and supporting a special DUI task force in metro Atlanta counties called the “Nighthawks” to help deter the crime of driving under the influence, and to arrest intoxicated drivers and drugged drivers. First established under former Gov. Sonny Perdue, the DUI enforcement effort has expanded under Gov. Nathan Deal.

Today’s state patrol elite DUI task force unit, based in Atlanta, is called “the NIGHTHAWKS.” This original group is now referred to as the Nighthawks DUI Task Force North. The North Georgia Nighthawks concentrate on the metro Atlanta business and entertainment district, and the Athens-Gwinnett County corridor along I-85 and Georgia Highway 316.

Nighthawks Expand to Add a South GA Team in 2009 and a Middle GA Team in 2012

This “North” team is distinguishable from the Nighthawks DUI Task Force South team, formed in 2009, which is based in and operating out of the Savannah-Statesboro area. The newest team, Nighthawks DUI Task Force Middle, was established in 2012, to cover the Columbus-Macon area. All of these DUI Task Force Nighthawks were originally stationed in the Atlanta area, with long-term plans for these troopers to expand the GOHS enforcement team.

A combination of being highly effective at interdicting DUI drivers, and a slacking off of DUI enforcement by local police departments in Georgia, has brought this DUI task force to the attention of the Georgia law enforcement community. The average Nighthawks trooper makes over 300 DUI arrests each year, and some have exceeded 600 driving while impaired arrests in one year.

The Nighthawks also patrol and set up DUI checkpoint locations near major sporting events, in anticipation of motorists seeking to travel away from these events and head home. These units can be found at other seasonal events like the Peach Bowl, professional sports games, NASCAR races, Oktoberfest and other festivities that attract people who are drinking and driving.

DUI Checkpoints in Georgia, Set Up by Georgia State Patrol Troopers in Atlanta and Other Georgia Cities

Although patrolling the streets brings in most DUI arrests for the GSP Nighthawks unit, they also establish DUI checkpoints when circumstances point to this being the best use of the available officers on duty. Typically, approximately 6 vehicles (or more) will be deployed to the location of the safety checkpoint or a sobriety checkpoint around midnight or later, when the traffic volume is subsiding. Multiple vehicles are needed so that sufficient visibility and manpower exist to handle the DUI roadblock traffic. One car stays ready to give chase to any motorist who (by making an illegal traffic maneuver) tries to evade the DUI checkpoint location.

Commonly, the feeder roads between the major north-south arteries of Peachtree Road, Piedmont Road or Roswell Road in Atlanta’s Buckhead area, going east or west toward either I-75, I-85, or Georgia 400, are places that these DUI checkpoint teams can be found. By the time a drunk driver can see the Nighthawks’ sobriety checkpoint, he or she will have no alternative route to avoid the roadblock.

While the GSP Nighthawks continue to expand their efforts, other Georgia police agencies, like the Atlanta Police Department, have de-emphasized DUI enforcement

These GSP specialized drunk driving enforcement units, with only about three dozen troopers and supervisors, made over 15% of all DUI arrests in Georgia last year by concentrating its drunken driving enforcement efforts on areas with a high concentration of restaurants and bars serving alcoholic beverages late into the night.

The other 85% of Georgia DUI arrests in the last couple of years have been made by the approximately 70,000 other patrol officers across the State of Georgia.

Despite the Herculean efforts made by these GSP Nighthawks, the number of DUI arrests in Georgia has plummeted to record lows for several years. Now, Georgia only makes roughly half the number of DUI arrests as the state of North Carolina, which is a southern state of equal population size. The DWI-DUI laws are very similar, so no good explanation for the dismal numbers exists except lack of emphasis on drunken driving arrests.

A similar previous federally-funded GSP DUI team, established originally under former Gov. Zell Miller in the 1990s, was called the Georgia State Patrol “A TEAM”. These GSP officers stayed in and around Atlanta, and primarily made arrests in the trendy Buckhead neighborhood. This effort demonstrated the value of focusing on driving while intoxicated cases.

At that same time, the City of Atlanta Police Department set up its own elite DUI task force unit. Federal highway funds were tapped to help buy special equipment, portable breath testing devices, video cameras, and to specially train an elite unit on the Atlanta Police Department.

This Atlanta DUI task force unit was highly effective in making thousands of drunk driving and drugged driving arrests each year, with its peak years in the late 1990s. One of these Atlanta task DUI officers personally booked over 2,200 DUI arrests in a four-year period. This officer now has retired to Florida.

Slowly, Atlanta started to diminish this Atlanta DUI task force team. Several of their top officers retired, or moved to police departments of other municipalities in Fulton County, DeKalb County, or Henry County, where better pay and benefits let them continue their DUI interdiction efforts. Other former Atlanta DUI task force officers were promoted by APD, but taken off all DUI patrol responsibility. Finally, in 2013, the current police chief, George Turner, completely disbanded Atlanta’s DUI team.

As a result, today only about one-third of the number of DUI arrests in Atlanta are made, as compared to an “average” year in the era of 1990 to 2005, due to lack of emphasis on stopping drunken drivers in Georgia.

The “North” team is distinguishable from the Nighthawks DUI Task Force South team, formed in 2009, which is based in and operating out of the Savannah-Statesboro area. The newest team, Nighthawks DUI Task Force Middle, was established in 2012, to cover the Columbus-Macon area. All of these DUI Task Force Nighthawks were originally stationed in the Atlanta area, with long-term plans for these troopers to expand the GOHS enforcement team.

A combination of being highly effective at interdicting DUI drivers, and a slacking off of DUI enforcement by local police departments in Georgia, has brought this DUI task force to the attention of the Georgia law enforcement community. The average Nighthawks trooper makes over 300 DUI arrests each year, and some have exceeded 600 driving while impaired arrests in one year.

Call 40-year veteran Atlanta DUI attorney Bubba Head today and get honest answers to all your questions. Tell us everything that happened and everything you remember about your DUI arrest. The sooner you call us, the better chance we have to win your case.

Remember, you only have 30 DAYS to file a license suspension appeal or apply for an ignition interlock device, or your driver’s license will be suspended for up to one year! Talk to Bubba Head, Larry Kohn, or Cory Yager now. We are available 24 hours a day, weekends, and all major holidays. (404) 567-5515

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