Police departments and sheriff's offices across the state are losing millions of dollars in grants this year for special drunken driving enforcement projects as lawmakers search for ways to adjust for Arizona's budget woes.
More than $2.1 million is being eliminated from the Oversight Council on Driving Under the Influence Abatement program, which awards grants to reduce DUIs. And law enforcement and safety officials are concerned the cutback will have deadly consequences.
"I don't know if the importance of this funding can be truly measured," said Holbrook police Chief Dwayne Hartup, council chairman. "The end result is a chance for more accidents, injuries and deaths."
The council, organized in 1998, has issued about $2 million in grants annually in recent years. Law enforcement agencies have used the funds to organize holiday DUI task forces, buy new equipment and pay the costs of overtime patrol.
The council awards grants in six-month cycles. Departments apply for them and are then reimbursed at the end of those periods.
However, after the sweep, it's likely that police agencies that haven't been reimbursed will lose out on promised money, Hartup said.
He also said it's likely no grants will be available for several years as Arizona officials scramble to close the current $1.2 billion budget gap, expected to grow even deeper in coming years.
"The state told us that we needed to start scaling back, and we have been," Hartup said. "But this happening in the middle of the year really caught a lot of departments off guard and caused a lot of them not to be able to made adjustments."
Across the East Valley, police departments are bracing for the impact.
Gilbert is facing its own $58 million budget shortfall over the next five years. Gilbert police used more than $20,000 in grants from the council in recent years but will not be able to dedicate additional officers to the DUI patrol with the reductions, police Sgt. Mark Marino said.
Scottsdale doesn't plan to cut back on any of its DUI enforcements, police Sgt. Mark Clark said. "We will do what we have to do to make it work," he said.
The council had given Scottsdale a $40,000 grant earlier this year, but the award was later pulled. The city also used a $90,000 grant in 2006.
Scottsdale will search for other grants or find ways to extract the money from its budget, Clark said.
In Mesa, police said they also shouldn't have to scale back for at least this year.
Despite having a grant from the council wiped away this year, they have already moved forward by securing additional funds from other grant sources, Mesa police Sgt. Jeff Thompson said.
"We are pretty fortunate, the grants we got should be substantial enough to carry us," he said.
Mesa also has some additional money set aside for overtime costs.
Grants from the Oversight Council are typically given to fund enforcement details that are focused on holidays such as New Year's, St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo.
Last year, 11,300 officers participated statewide during such DUI task forces, netting nearly 10,000 arrests. More than 3,000 of those were for extreme DUI. The average blood-alcohol content for the arrested drivers was 0.148 percent.
However, not all DUI enforcement projects or task forces are funded with grants from the Oversight Council. The Governor's Office of Highway Safety issues several million dollars in grants every year.
Departments can also receive grants from the federal government.
But police officials said the grants dropped from the council will still have an impact.
"We understand that the state is going into a crisis, and we don't want to pass blame," Hartup said. "But it will put a considerable hardship on police agencies.
"What can we do?" he said. "We really can't say that we won't do it because we don't have the money. It's our duty as police, our obligation."