DUI arrests rise, but are liquor sales to blame?

September 07, 2003|GARY MOYERS

Six months ago today several local people gathered at Two Roads Cafe to celebrate the first legal sales of alcohol in Danville in decades. Voters passed a local option referendum in November 2002.

The vote that made Danville a "moist" community, allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages in restaurants with at least 100 seats that derive at least 70 percent of their revenue from food sales.

After the first summer of alcohol sales in Danville in more than 50 years, preliminary alcohol-related traffic statistics show little or no increase in most categories - except in DUI arrests.

The number of drivers arrested in the city limits for driving under the influence between April 1 and Aug. 31 jumped from 45 in 2002 to 116 in 2003, an increase of 157 percent.


Arrests for alcohol intoxication increased from 30 to 58 in the same time period, while alcohol-related accidents remained about the same (392 in 2002 compared with 394 in 2003). Both years had one fatal accident related to alcohol (the one in 2003 occurred before legal sales took effect), and alcohol-related injuries actually declined from five to two over the period.

Is the increase in DUI and alcohol intoxication arrests a direct result of legalized alcohol sales?

Not necessarily, said Danville Police Chief Jeff Peek.

"I don't know if we can draw significant conclusions from these numbers yet," said Peek. "Historically we have been prolific at catching DUIs in Danville. Our staffing is much better this year, and we've received more federal grants to let officers work overtime for traffic enforcement.

"Last year we had 22 officers on our staff," he said. "This year the city has authorized a staff of 31 officers, and right now we have 29 on duty with two set to come out of training soon. The staffing goes up, and the arrests go up. With increased patrols we're better able to cover more area more of the time, which leads to more arrests."

DUI arrests have gone up and down

As a comparison, the DUI arrests exhibited a similar roller coaster pattern in 2000 and 2001, before alcohol sales took effect. Danville officers arrested 39 drivers in 2000 compared to 81 in 2001, and once again, staffing was an issue.

According to department records, the Danville Police Department lost four officers from its complement of 20 in 2000, and did not participate in the federal highway safety grant program that year due to a problem with procuring matching grant funds. Those federal safety grants are used to pay overtime to officers, allowing the department to keep more officers on the streets more often.

Peek said he believes the increased number of DUI arrests this year are the result of not only more officers on duty, but better enforcement efforts.

"I am very pleased with our officers' efforts to take impaired drivers off the street," he said. "This has been a priority for me since I came here (in August, 2002). I don't believe there are any more impaired drivers on the road now than there were 10 years ago. I just think our efforts to catch them are better."

Law enforcement officers in areas surrounding Danville say they have noticed no change in their areas as a result of Danville's vote.

"We haven't noticed any changes," said Boyle Sheriff Lee Roy Hardin. "It's been basically the same as usual for us."

Junction City Police Chief Jimmie Gipson agreed. "We have been running about the same as far as DUIs. We really haven't seen much difference here."

Peek said alcohol related arrests historically show an increase during the summer months.

"They do go up in the summer," he said. "There are three holidays during that period, involving increased outdoor activities and the drinking that is many times associated with outdoor activities."

Peek also said advances in communications equipment have played a role in traffic enforcement efforts.

"We are getting more tips from citizens on cell phones about impaired drivers," he said. "We also catch impaired drivers from other areas who drive to Danville, and we have more communication with other jurisdictions letting us know they're heading our way. We get most of our DUIs on the roads coming into and out of town, actually. They seem to want to avoid the main part of town."

Little difference in underage drinking arrests

As for arrests of underage drinkers, officials have noted little difference this year over previous years.

"The enforcement starts in the restaurants," said Peek. "They have to be responsible, and according to city ordinance they attend mandatory training in Danville. Then responsibility progresses to the (Alcoholic Beverage Control) administrator in Danville, then up to the ABC at the state level, which does random investigations and checks."

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