Drunken drivers think twice—Winona County and the city of Winona have some of the most successful driving while intoxicated (DWI) enforcers in the state, including Winona County Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Meyers, who arrested nearly twice as many impaired drivers as any other officer in greater Minnesota last year. Meyers, Winona Police Officer Brad Barrientos, and Winona County Assistant Attorney Steve Ott were named to the statewide DWI Enforcer All-Stars list by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS). Winona Police Sergeant Jay Rasmussen was also awarded the Far and Beyond in DWI Arrests Award from the Minnesota Alcohol and Traffic Safety Association.
Meyers arrested 122 impaired drivers last year; Barrientos arrested 37. Rasmussen made numerous DWI arrests and commands the Winona Police Department’s (WPD) night shift. Ott has 50 to 100 open DWI cases at any given time and works with officers on his own time to give advice and learn more about their work, all with the goal of enforcing consequences for impaired driving.
“There are all kinds of ways you can try to quantify what we do,” Ott said. “But that’s not what sets these officers apart. What sets them apart is the quality of their work and their dedication. What really sets them apart is the number of lives they’ve saved and the serious crimes they’ve deterred.”
When asked what inspires him, Meyers related the story of a good friend of his who drove while drunk, was ejected from his vehicle, and died in 2005. Meyers said he still wears a T-shirt with his friend’s picture on it “to help remind me why I do this job.”
Meyers gestured to his wife and the wives of Rasmussen and Barrientos, who watched as the men were honored. “We’re all family men with children,” he said. “You take those people off the road to protect the people you love. If you want to hate me [for arresting people], you can hate me, but at least you’re alive to hate me.”
Aggressive police work is what helps make Winona law enforcement officers stand out, Rasmussen said. “It’s entirely proactive. We’ll pull over people for a minor violation and talk to them.” It is through those stops that he and his colleagues are able to identify drunk drivers. Talented Drug Recognition Evaluators (DREs) are an important part of the county and city’s enforcement work, as well. It is not just alcohol, Rasmussen said. Meyers is a DRE and is often called by county deputies and city officers alike to help establish evidence on whether a driver is under the influence of drugs. Ott’s focus on and diligence in holding people accountable for their actions is also key to making Winona area roads safer, Rasmussen said.
Meyers honored his and his fellow officers’ spouses, as well. “It takes a very special woman to live with a police officer because of the late nights and days that are ruined by going to court. They deserve as much credit,” he said, smiling.