ABC Operation Safe Streets offers safe alternatives to drinking, driving

by: Allison Latos Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

Charlotte's late-night bar business booms almost every night with lines of people waiting to party and music pounding.

Now, Mecklenburg County ABC officers are watching for people heading home who may have had too much to drink.

"The game changes once you get into the vehicle, start it up and start driving," said Chief Mike Crowley.

Crowley and his officers have a simple mission: stop people before they get behind the wheel, ask if they are too impaired to drive and offer another way home.

Jason Astephen owns the bar Prohibition in Uptown and said the offer is now what most of his customers expect.

"A lot of times people are afraid to approach them because they think, 'Oh, it is a cop. I got to run and get away from them, I am drinking,'" said Astephen.

Bryanna Sierra told Eyewitness News that she was happy to see Officer Wayne Long offering options for people to get home.

"It is 30-40 bucks to get a cab depending on how many miles you are going, and I think a lot of people are like, 'That is a lot of money, I am just going to jump in my car really quick – I am fine. I had a couple of beers, whatever,'" said Sierra.

If customers cannot call a friend or afford a cab the ABC gives them a voucher that will cover the cost.

"How about, 'I have got an option for you. I can get you in a cab and get you home, it will not cost you a thing,'" said Long.

But they stress this program is not a free ride on the agency's bus.

The success is in the numbers.

In two nights of Operation Safe Streets, the ABC stopped 92 impaired people from driving and spent $270 on vouchers with only seven full-time officers.

Compare that to the average DWI charged which leads to the arrest of about 12 impaired drivers and requires 25-30 officers.

"We are getting these people off the road so your family can go out and is safe driving and they do not have to worry about some else out there," said Crowley.

The ABC said Operation Safe Streets will not take place of DWI checkpoints, but they hope this new effort will get people to plan ahead if they want to drink and line up another way home.