By Joe Beck
It's New Year Eve, and it's time to party. Or maybe not.
Local law enforcement officials say the widely held perception of the hours before and after midnight as a time of widespread, dangerous rowdiness may be exaggerated, at least based on their experiences in recent years.
Full shifts will be out on patrol Tuesday night watching for signs of impaired driving, fielding noise complaints from neighbors and responding to reports of fights breaking out among the heavily imbibed.
But local police said they haven't seen much evidence in recent years that more people are jailed or ticketed on New Year's Eve than on other nights.
"I don't see really recall any big increases in DUI arrests on New Year's Eve," said Lt. Warren Gosnell, who leads the traffic division in the Frederick County's Sheriff's Office.
Gosnell said a normal Tuesday night rarely produces a rash of impaired driving arrests, and he doesn't expect this year to be much different, despite New Year's Eve celebrations.
"I expect to see a few (arrests), but it's not going to be double digits or anything like that," Gosnell said. "I think the public has become better educated. They know on these holidays when celebrating is going on that law enforcement is going to be increasing our numbers."
Frederick County and several other agencies are participating in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration' s "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" campaign that began Dec. 13 and concludes on New Year's Day.
Extra patrols will be looking for impaired drivers between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., Gosnell said.
"Our thinking is that most people will be stationary up until the midnight countdown and then go mobile again," Gosnell said.
Woodstock police Chief Eric Reiley said his department was planning staggered shifts for the evening "with the idea of having plenty of officers out around midnight."
Reiley described last weekend as "fairly quiet."
"But we certainly don't want to take anything for granted," Reiley said. "We encourage everyone to be responsible and safe."
Lt. Roger Vorous of the Warren County Sheriff's Office said deputies in his department will be "keeping an eye out" for impaired drivers in a few "hot spots."
Vorous said much depends on the weather. Clear, dry weather may signal more violations and troublesome events, he said.
"If the weather is nasty and snowy and things like that, we don't have a lot going on," Vorous said.
Front Royal police Chief Norman Shiflett said his department will have one extra officer on patrol to handle any increase in the amount of incidents.
Shiflett said he didn't notice any increase in traffic or criminal law violations last New Year's Eve. He urged those who have been drinking to use taxis, designated drivers and other alternatives to driving themselves.
"I think the public is aware that police have been concentrating their efforts in trying to get drunk drivers off the road," Shiflett said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org