Operation Thunder has ended, but motorists should still expect the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office to make its presence known on New Year’s Eve.
Dec. 13 and 14 marked the final follow-up weekend of the 90-day initiative, which was created by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety with the purpose of cracking down on traffic violations to decrease fatalities.
The sheriff’s office, which received state funding for the program and four follow-up weekends, will no longer use outside agencies to help with DUI enforcement, Lt. Lewis Blanchard said.
“We’ll have some more of our own guys out on patrol,” he said. “(Operation Thunder) won’t be back for a few more years. Generally, a county will have to wait two or three years before bringing the initiative back unless there is a serious issue.”
Richmond County was coming off one of its worst years for traffic fatalities in 2012 with 42 total. By Operation Thunder’s end in December, deputies had responded to 23 road fatalities. None happened on a night Operation Thunder was in effect, according to a statement from the sheriff’s office.
In Operation Thunder’s final follow-up, the department strayed from the traditional DUI checkpoints in favor of “roving patrols,” said Lt. Ramone Lamkin, of the traffic division. These placed more officers on the streets paying close attention to drivers who appeared to be impaired.
The approach wasn’t as successful, Lamkin said, and he expects the department to bring back DUI checkpoints for New Year’s Eve.
“When you’re able to interact with every single driver, like at a checkpoint, you are more likely to catch the person who is driving impaired,” he said.
During last year’s patrol period for New Year’s celebrations, Dec. 28-Jan. 1, there were 694 crashes reported locally, resulting in 353 injuries and four deaths, according to Sgt. 1st Class Ritchie Howard of the Georgia State Patrol. In that time, 352 people were arrested for drunken driving by state troopers.
Law enforcement investigated 3,691 crashes statewide during that period, Howard said, resulting in 1,476 injuries and seven deaths.