As Saturday night turned to Sunday morning, the lights atop Fairfax County Police Department cruisers along Leesburg pike lit up the night sky like swarms of blue fireflies.
The routine traffic stops were plentiful but the McLean District officers weren’t finding many drivers under the influence.
The diminishing number of driving while intoxicated arrests is a trend that has been consistent in the district since 2011. That year, 433 people were arrested and charged with DWI.
In 2012, that number dropped to 350 DWI arrests in the McLean District - which covers Merrifield, Dunn Loring, Falls Church, McLean, Tyson’s Corner and Great Falls.
“I do feel very good getting drunk drivers off the roads,” said McLean District Officer Ali Sepehri, who doesn’t know why there is a decrease in the number of DWI arrests.
County police are cracking down on motorists caught driving intoxicated or under the influence with several aggressive initiatives. Sobriety checkpoints, directed patrols and business compliance checks have helped the county’s DWI arrests go from 3,223 in 2011 to 2,625 in 2012.
According to state law, a blood alcohol level of 0.08 legally classifies you as intoxicated. Penalty fines range from $250 to $1,000, and offenders with a fourth DWI arrest in a 10-year period could face up to a year in jail.
Sepehri has been a police officer for six years. The Virginia Tech graduate holds an engineering degree but his passion is helping rid the streets of drunk drivers and his statistics show.
Armed with his personal set of tricks to spot a drunk driver – swerving, crossing the lines in the street without signaling, driving slower than others in traffic – and his lucky flower in the passenger side visor, Sepehri has racked up more than 200 DWI arrests in his short career.
That statistic ranks him in the top five amongst county officers who arrest drunk drivers, he said.
“It’s just a sixth sense,” Sepehri said. “Unfortunately, people don’t know when to stop drinking.”
The downtick in DWI arrests may also be closely attributed to the county’s alcohol awareness, education and enforcement program. According to a release from Fairfax County Police's Lucy Caldwell, the police use several tactics to get drunk drivers off the streets including working with Fairfax County Public Schools to help reduce underage drinking and sobriety checkpoints.
The efforts have produced these numbers:Police Station 2011 2012 Sully 363 242 Mt. Vernon 368 365 McLean 433 350 Mason 520 468 Reston 294 214 Franconia 430 318 West Springfield 351 245 Fair Oaks 334 312 Other 130 111 TOTALS 3,223 2,625
With warmer weather on the way, Sepehri said there could be an increase of drunken motorists spilling out of area bars and onto the roads. When that happens, he said he will be there to get them off the streets and into a cell.
“One of my worst nightmares is to let a drunk driver drive by me and I notice them and I let them drive away and then later I find them in an accident that actually hurt themselves or someone else,” Sepehri said.