UNION COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - In less than three years, the Union County Sheriff's Office elite traffic safety team, known as SAFE (Sheriff's Alcohol Field Enforcement) Unit eclipsed a milestone last week by registering their 1,000th DWI charge.
The unit, led by Sergeant Jonathan Philemon and four deputy sheriffs, are in their third year of operation, funded by a grant through the Governor's Highway Safety Program.
The number of DWI charges filed by the five person unit has continued to increase over the first three years.
"Our goal is not to stop until we can't find them," said Philemon.
Sgt. Philemon attributes the increase to a number of factors, including a higher volume of traffic on Union County roads, as well as the experience level of deputies assigned to the unit.
"They are on the road so much more because our processing is so much shorter than when we started the unit," Philemon. "Because of that, instead of being in the jail 4, 5, 6 hours, we are there 2 hours. So, we are able to be out there more."
Sgt. Philemon noted that the number of drug impaired drivers has also increased.
"We are also seeing a huge increase in the opioid impaired driving, the marijuana impaired driving," said Philemon.
Two deputies assigned to the SAFE Unit were recognized in 2017 for their hard work and commitment to improving highway safety in Union County.
Deputy Sheriff Chris Horne was recognized as the 2017 Mothers against Drunk Driving Deputy of the Year.
Deputy Sheriff Jeff Weatherman received the 2017 North Carolina Governor's Highway Safety Program's County Partner of the Year Award.
"We feel like we are doing a good job. We hear from people a lot. They know we are out there," said Philemon.
The Unit is funded for 4 years. After that, the Sheriff will decide whether to continue to fund and use the unit.