BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji Police Department was honored last Wednesday by the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Minnesota chapter with the greater Minnesota “Outstanding Agency” law enforcement award.

The award recognizes a law enforcement department that goes above and beyond in the areas of education, prevention, policy or enforcement and whose efforts are making an impact in reducing alcohol-related death and injury on Minnesota’s roads.

From January 2019 to February 2020, the Bemidji Police Department arrested 272 people for DWI offenses within the Bemidji city limits.

The occasion, which ordinarily would have been an award ceremony with much fanfare, had to be lessened a bit due to the coronavirus. Instead of the usual April ceremony, Victim Services Manager with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Rahya Iliff, presented the department with a plaque on Sept. 16 at City Hall.

The department was nominated by Capt. David LaZella who wrote that “the City of Bemidji Police Department provides many areas of education. . . BPD works with Bemidji State University and provides training sessions to newly incoming freshmen on use of alcohol and personal safety while at college and in our community.”

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“We chose Bemidji based on Capt. LaZella’s nomination,” Iliff said. “You guys are doing awesome, and then we have officers here that are doing awesome on their own as well, so thank you. You guys are doing lots of great stuff up here.”

Members of the Bemidji Police Department, Ward 1 City Councilwoman Nancy Erickson and City Manager Nate Mathews gathered on Wednesday at City Hall to receive an award from Victim Services Manager with Mothers Against Drunk Driving Rahya Iliff for a department-wide award for its drunk driving arrests in 2019. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
Members of the Bemidji Police Department, Ward 1 City Councilwoman Nancy Erickson and City Manager Nate Mathews gathered on Wednesday at City Hall to receive an award from Victim Services Manager with Mothers Against Drunk Driving Rahya Iliff for a department-wide award for its drunk driving arrests in 2019. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

In his nomination letter, LaZella also detailed the other prevention measures employed by the department: promoting D.A.R.E. in schools, lecturing in drivers’ training courses, implementing social media campaigns, identifying and counseling “suspected party houses,” and using a low profile law enforcement vehicle.

“As someone who kind of sits on the sidelines, it was fantastic, the work that they were doing, to see it all come together,” LaZella said at the ceremony. “They really worked hard at it, it seemed worthy of some recognition.”

Through grant funding, the Bemidji Police Department has a full-time DUI enforcement officer, responsible solely for DWI and DUI traffic and investigation of impaired drivers. This year, it is Officer Jeff Amey.

He and a handful of other officers will also be honored by MADD individually, as the organization gives awards for numbers of individual impaired driving arrests. Amey said he has made 108 arrests this year so far.

“I like keeping the roads safe,” Amey said. “It was brought up in one of my trainings that one in ten drivers on the road is impaired, and that’s something that really bothers me. It’s a big safety issue.”

“The way I see it is, if I take an impaired driver off the road, maybe they would’ve (made it home) but maybe they would’ve crashed head-on into another car,” he added.

According to the MADD Minnesota website, Mothers Against Drunk Driving's advocates and staff work tirelessly to support victims at no charge, advocate for stronger laws and create a future of "No More Victims."