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Western Pa. police prep for pre-Christmas long weekend

| Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, 11:56 p.m.

The timing of Christmas this year might mean an extra day of merrymaking and more work for police.

“Since Christmas falls on a Tuesday, we think most people will take that Monday off and just extend the weekend,” said Richard Rattner, owner of William Penn Tavern in Shadyside. “We're expecting a big weekend ... with all the panic-buying and exhausted husbands.”

People typically don't party as much the week of Christmas as they do the day before Thanksgiving, known as “Blackout Wednesday” to some bars and promoters. Experts in the imbibing field say more people likely will go to bars Dec. 21-23 than on an average weekend.

“We usually get very busy, pretty much that whole week,” said Jason Klein, manager of North Park Lounge in McCandless. “You have a lot of people off work, and a lot of people home for the holidays.”

Police plan to step up their presence in response.

“Thursday through Saturday night (before Christmas) is going to be very heavy for us, and then again the Thursday through Saturday leading up to New Year's,” said Greensburg police Chief Walter Lyons.

Over the holidays, state and federal grants help police agencies pay for extra patrols and checkpoints to prevent motorists from driving while intoxicated, he said.

“We're prepared for more impaired driving, based on college students being home for the holidays and going out to bars,” said Pittsburgh police Cmdr. Scott Schubert, whose Special Deployment Division operates DUI checkpoints around the city. Pittsburgh police arrested 18 people for DUI between the day before Thanksgiving and the Monday after, which is typical for a holiday weekend, he said.

In Cranberry, Public Safety Director Jeffrey Schueler said Christmas doesn't compare to Thanksgiving in terms of drinking and driving, but his department will cooperate with the Butler County District Attorney's Office to set up one or more DUI checkpoints.

“We're hoping that the general public gets the word that we're out enforcing these laws,” Greensburg's Lyons said.

Robert Lemons, police chief for the city of Washington, said the holidays don't necessarily mean heavier drinking. In his view, the additional people on the road, or in town to visit family, simply increase the likelihood that officers will find and stop some who are drunk.

“With more people out and about, there's more opportunities for incidents to happen,” Lemons said.

State police Sgt. Arthur Giles, commander of the Beaver County station, said the area he covers can be “hit or miss” for holiday DUIs, and people coming home for Christmas tend to drink at or near home.

“A lot of the traffic stays off the highways,” Giles said. “I think people are more likely going out locally or to neighborhood bars, rather than taking long drives like into Pittsburgh and taking the risk of being caught with a DUI.”

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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