LA CROSSE COUNTY (WXOW) - Sergeant Marte Peterson has patrolled the roads around La Crosse for the past 14 years. In that time, he's seen his share of speeders, violators, and drunk drivers.
The traffic violations have remained the same, but the way Peterson and the La Crosse County Sheriff's Department has gone about enforcing them have changed.
The Sheriff's Department, along with other local law enforcement, formed a task force and will patrol three major roadways - Highway 53, Highway 16 and Interstate 90. The dates and routes were chosen because of reported high numbers of drunk drivers.
The initiative is made possible by a federal grant. The Sheriff's Department received $4,700 for overtime costs and a wireless radio.
On Thursday, Peterson participated in his fourth OWI patrol this year, totaling about 24 hours. He's been a part of many patrols, and said their biggest purpose is allowing an extra patrol car to focus on finding drunk drivers.
"We get these grants and we're out here enforcing OWI's or Click It or Ticket something like that and some people get the mentality that we're out here to try and arrest as many people as we can, we're out here to try and write as many citations as we can," he said. "At the end of the day it's simple as this: our ultimate goal is for drunk drivers not to be on the road."
News 19 road along with Peterson for four hours Thursday night, watching him pull cars over for speeding and missing headlights.
Around 9 p.m. Peterson overheard a radio call about a vehicle with a possible flat tire making sparks on the roadway. He responded to the scene and talked with the driver, who was from Holmen.
Peterson told News 19 the driver had admitted to drinking, and then initiated a field sobriety test. The man took a breathalyzer test, stood on one leg, and walked back and forth.
He was under the legal blood-alcohol limit, but Peterson determined he wasn't in condition to drive home on his own. The man called for a ride and agreed to store his vehicle at a friend's garage nearby.
Information about the man's vehicle was reported by a citizen driving on the road, Peterson said, which is all too common. He said there have been roughly 1,000 complaints received by officers in recent months.
"We can't be everywhere," Peterson said. "So we need the eyes, we need the ears of the community."
Three more patrols are scheduled as part of the task force. The next one will be July 2, which corresponds with Riverfest in La Crosse and the July 4th holiday weekend. The final two will be Labor Day weekend.
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