No Refusal extends to every weekend until September

Will Clark

This past weekend, the Austin Police Department began its extended No Refusal initiative that will occur every weekend until September as part of the department’s crackdown on drunk driving. The policy states that even if a driver refuses a breathalyzer test, police will go to a judge for a search warrant for the driver’s blood. Judges are on call at all hours so the officers are able to get the warrants and the evidence quickly.

Detective Richard Mabe, who works in APD’s DWI Enforcement Unit, said the problem of drinking and driving won’t be solved by making as many arrests as possible.

“We’re never going to arrest our way out of this problem,” Mabe said. “What is going to solve it is the community coming together with the police department and saying, ‘Enough is enough.’”

While judges in Travis County are available around the clock even on normal weekends, APD officers will normally not take breath or blood samples if the driver refuses.

The difference, Mabe said, is that on No Refusal weekends, there is more personnel in place set up to handle the surge in evidence and suspects, especially in the lab which processes the blood tests.

The extended No Refusal program is funded by a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation. APD spokeswoman Anna Sabana said while there is not a specific amount set aside, the department receives $1 million a year from TxDOT, which covers No Refusal weekends and other forms of officer overtime.

One of the longest No Refusal initiatives of the year just ended, running from May 26 to June 12 and encompassing Memorial Day weekend and the Republic of Texas Biker Rally. According to a statement from APD, the initiative resulted in 164 DWI arrests, including weeknights — a departure from previous No Refusal initiatives.

“A lot of people, when they look at No Refusal, they want to look at the end result, the number of arrests,” Mabe said. “We may make quite a few arrests, but the number of arrests are going to be pretty close to the same (as normal). What No Refusal does is on every arrest we do make, we’re getting a sample.”

Mabe said the advantage of having the samples is they’re able to turn as much evidence over to the District Attorney’s office as possible, meaning a possibly smoother trial.

Mabe also pointed out that the majority of arrests are not UT students, saying the University and Capital Metro do a great job transporting students safely around Austin.

Dustin Farahnak, UT Police Department corporal, deals with many of the DWI arrests made around campus. While UT police do not employ No Refusal policies, Farahnak said he supports the practice as a preventative measure.

“It’s so easy today to just get a rideshare,” Farahnak said. “If you think there’s going to be a big consequence if you jump in a car and drive home, you’ll just get an Uber for 20 bucks.”
Austin criminal attorney Kevin Bennett often defends students who have been charged with DWIs, and said even without the policy, police have the ability to obtain a warrant if a driver refuses a breathalyzer.

“It’s really always no refusal,” Bennett said. “(The initiative) is more of a warning to the public that they’re going to get a warrant.”