Record low DUI arrests in ’05 | SierraSun.com

Record low DUI arrests in ’05

Jon Beckhardt
Sierra Sun

Truckee police made fewer drunk driving arrests in 2005 than in any other year on record.

Last year, officers made 112 DUI arrests, an all-time low for the three years complete records are available and part of a trend of declining drunk driving arrests. In 2004 and 2003 there were 124 and 142 arrests, respectively.

Lt. Harwood Mitchell of the Truckee Police Department attributed the trend to a combination of increased education and increased enforcement.

“This is no more of a problem than any other community deals with,” Mitchell said.

In 2004, Truckee had only a slightly higher percentage of DUI cases per capita than California did as a whole ” .75 percent to .63 percent.

Area law enforcement uses a variety of methods to target drunk drivers. The Truckee Police Department assigns one cruiser on high-risk nights to patrol exclusively for DUI. The California Highway Patrol, which has jurisdiction over highways in the Truckee area, uses pre-publicized DUI checkpoints.

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But it would be a mistake to let improving figures disguise a continuing problem for the community.

From January through September of 2005, the Truckee Police Department responded to 14 DUI-related accidents.

The numbers, though, may point to a larger issue: the lack of options that exist in Truckee for people trying to get home after a night of well-intentioned intoxication.

Walking home is often implausible; public transit doesn’t operate late; and taxi cabs are scarce. Additionally, with the new parking regulations in downtown Truckee, vehicles cannot be left parked downtown overnight.

And for many, the designated driver option isn’t always realistic.

“When I turn the lights on at closing-time everyone in the bar is over .08,” said one downtown doorman, referring to the legal blood alcohol content limit. “Some of them will take cabs home, but the majority won’t. And they for sure don’t walk. You can’t walk to Tahoe Donner.”

Town Councilman Richard Anderson agreed.

“Truckee just isn’t conducive to walking home,” he said.

Local taxi companies are aiming to meet some of the need. Currently, approximately five or six taxis serve the Truckee area on a weekend night.

“Helping people avoid DUI is one of the main reasons we’re in business,” said Tal Fletcher, owner of Mountain Cab, “We’re expanding as fast as we can to meet this demand.”

Other taxi companies expressed a similar desire, but pointed to the difficulty in increasing service for peak-hours without being able to justify it for down-hours.

Even so, it would take a lot of expansion to satisfy the demand created at 2 a.m. as downtown bars spew their customers onto the street. On the worst of nights people can wait more than an hour for a taxi, said the doorman.

If friends are unable to muster up a designated driver before the night begins, or rally a buddy out of bed to pick them up, they are left to either their feet or their keys.

Many bar-goers, though, expressed the opinion that even if someone might live close enough to walk home, Truckee police are an additional impediment.

In one downtown bartender’s experience, the police were “going overboard” in arresting patrons for public drunkenness.

“[The police] will arrest two guys just walking home drunk,” he said. “That’s different than two guys drunk causing a scene during the day with a bunch of tourists around.”

Although he prefaced that he did not have all the facts to comment on the police, Anderson said he was concerned about officers being over-zealous when it came to people walking under the influence.

“If people are walking home from a night of drinking, rather than driving, that’s a plus for the community,” he said.

Lt. Mitchell maintained that people are arrested “when they cannot make it home, and are unable to care for themselves.”

Fred Holmes, the deputy district attorney assigned to Truckee, said he hasn’t seen an increased workload due to people cited for being drunk in public.

“I’ve heard these rumors downtown, but I haven’t seen any rise in public drunkenness cases that is disproportionate to Truckee’s increase in population,” he said.

Still, the bartender echoed an opinion that runs through downtown drinking establishments.

“The goal shouldn’t be arresting people,” he said.

Like many others interviewed, he evoked Truckee lore of the days when the sheriff would drive a person home if he or she were drunk.

While many may wish that those halcyon days would return, liability issues will ensure that they don’t. According to Holmes, taking a drunk individual home instead of putting him in jail could make the police department liable for the actions that that individual takes after he has been dropped off.

Despite the array of perspectives on the issue, no one said that a lack of options provided a license for individuals to drink and drive.

As Anderson put it, “Bars are important to the life of any community. But people need to figure out a safe way to get home.”