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Police program buys drunk drivers a cab home from the bar

Police paying for DUI drivers' cab home. Sounds smart, but who's footing the bill?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Law enforcement in Mecklenburg County is taking a new approach to combating drunk drivers, by staking out parking lots of popular bars.

The method, dubbed “Operation Safe Streets,” was launched by the county’s Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board last year.

Statistics show there will be more drunk drivers on North Carolina roads on Thanksgiving than any other holiday, so officers are ramping up Operation Safe Streets starting Wednesday.

The program aims to stop drinkers before they ever get behind the wheel.

Officers in unmarked cars sit in parking lots of popular bars and clubs, and study the people who come out.

They approach anyone who appears intoxicated as they head to their cars, keys in hand.

“We just ask them, 'do you think it's a good idea for you to drive home tonight?'” Michael Crowley, a chief law enforcement officer for the ABC Board explained. “One hundred percent of the time, they say no.”

Police don’t make any arrests or write tickets, as long as the drinker admits they shouldn’t drive and secures a ride home. Officers prefer to look at it as a nudge in the right direction.

Crowley said he started Operation Safe Streets after becoming frustrated by a lack of results from DWI checkpoints.

“I just looked at it and we had a lot of police officers, a lot of manpower, and we only got like nine people in a night,” he said.

“Plus the officer who makes that DWI arrest has to go to the jail, now they're in the system, now the DA’s office has to deal with them, if they have an accident the hospitals have to deal with them, the officer has to go to court, and they might not even win the case. Why go through all that when we can just get a bunch of people off the street that night?”

If the drinker can’t afford a safe ride home, the county fronts the bill for their Uber.

“What's $10 as opposed to maybe a traffic accident where a lot of people are injured or killed?” Crowley asked.

Granted, that’s taxpayer money — but Crowley says it’s a negligible amount. They’ve spent about $400 so far, in their first year of the operation.

He says in that year, they have already intercepted more than 600 people who were prepared to get behind the wheel intoxicated.

“We will be out tomorrow night going to places where we know people are going to be drinking,” Crowley said. “It’s not about arrests, we just want to make things safe.”

“Although,” he added with emphasis, “If they get in the car, if they insist on driving, that's a game changer.”

Crowley says there will still be dozens of DUI checkpoints all across the area over the holiday.

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