(HELENA) Thanks to a state grant, the Helena Police Department will be able to add a full-time officer to focus on traffic enforcement, especially driving under the influence.
HPD received a one-year grant of $94,996 from the Montana Department of Transportation’s Highway Traffic Safety Section. It will pay the salary and benefits for an “impaired driving enforcement officer.”
The officer will patrol the streets during holidays, special events and other peak traffic times, making traffic stops and looking for anyone under the influence.
“What it does is hopefully get folks considering, it’s time to get a designated driver, a cab, an Uber,” said HPD Assistant Chief Steve Hagen.
Hagen said, currently, HPD officers can only do traffic patrols when they have time between their other responsibilities. He said having a dedicated officer will let them put a greater emphasis on addressing DUIs.
HPD has selected current Officer Dakota Becker to take on the assignment. He will start his new duties on Oct. 1. The department will hire a new officer to fill his spot.
In addition to patrols, Becker will also work together with other agencies and the Lewis and Clark County DUI Task Force on other ways to address impaired driving.
“He’s going to do educational talks, driver’s ed, community talks and those kind of things, all focused on reducing the rates of DUI’s and DUI accidents in our community,” Hagen said.
HPD previously had a grant to pay for current officers to work overtime to provide additional traffic enforcement. But Hagen said they didn’t have enough employees to maintain staffing for it, so they had to return the money.
The MDT grant will cover the salary and benefits for the traffic enforcement officer, but HPD will pay for things like the officer’s vehicle, gas and overtime pay.
Hagen said the department will apply for the grant again next year. If they aren’t awarded money for the position, they will have to see if leaders can find funding for it through the normal city budget process.