COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – Local law enforcement officials in Columbus are getting well deserved recognition from a national non-profit for their work in DUI arrests.

The recognition comes from the 18th Annual Golden Shield Honors hosted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving that took place on June 15 in Fayetteville, Georgia.

Regional Executive Director for MADD Denise Brodsky acknowledges our law enforcement officers as heroes.

“This is an opportunity for us to really focus on the work they’re doing that is life-saving,” Brodsky said.

One of those officers to receive recognition is Sergeant Ronnie Oakes from the Columbus Police Department.

Sergeant Oakes has had well over 100 DUI arrest in his career, but since being promoted to Sergeant in April of 2022, he’s added five more to that total.

At the Golden Shield Honors, Sergeant Oakes was awarded a bronze pin for recording 28 DUI arrests.

Oakes recognizes it’s a team effort and he’s proud of the work he and his fellow officers are responsible for.

“It’s definitely something we do take a lot of credit for and it’s something we’re very prideful in,” Oakes said.

Sergeant Oaks says prevention often starts with visibility.

“The biggest thing is, you always want to be seen,” Oakes said. “A lot of times the officer presence can deter a lot of it.”

According to an annual report from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, Georgia recorded 1,664 traffic fatalities on public roadways, a 12% increase from 2019.

The data in the report comes from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, travel patterns in the report indicated residents were staying home more and on the roads less.

However, some drivers who were on the roads in 2020, engaged in riskier behavior such as driving under the influence.

Sergeant Oaks says he witnessed this firsthand.

“We were getting a lot of daytime drunks, people who were drinking at home during their work hours, with no one to really report to,” Oakes said. “They get off of work at five o’clock, they’re going to go to the grocery store, and we’re having these DUI accidents.

According to the report, there were 402 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in 2020, accounting for 24 percent of all motor vehicle traffic deaths in Georgia. This was a 13 percent increase from the previous year.

Across the country, the national average is just as a shocking and unsettling, Brodsky confirms.

“300,000 times a day, an adult gets behind the wheel under the influence, so that means that 30 times a day this preventable crime takes a human life,” Brodsky said.

Sergeant Oaks says the recognition from MADD affirms the life-saving work local law enforcement are responsible for.

“We’re trying to catch these people before they can cause someone serious injury or even fatalities. Any person that’s caught and taken into custody for driving while impaired, potentially saves a life in every traffic stop.”

Sergeant Oaks says driving while impaired goes beyond drinking and driving and extends to illegal narcotics and prescription medication, adding these factors can negatively influence someone’s ability to drive safely.

“More often than not when we find these people impaired, either by just alcohol or drugs, there’s typically more than one drug that’s on-board,” Oakes said.

Brodsky says prevention starts with a plan to have a designated driver. 

Sergeant Oakes agrees and wants to remind folks, Georgia is a zero-tolerance state when it comes to driving impaired.

“Anytime you get behind that wheel and you’re impaired, you’re putting yourself, someone’s loved one at risk for serious injury or even death.”

Sergeant Oakes wasn’t the only one to walk away with honors. In addition to his bronze pin, Officer Patrick Byrne and Former Columbus Police Officer Kevin Gibson were awarded silver pins, bringing in a total of 139 DUI arrest that was recognized at the ceremony.