Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Column 119 - DUI

Last week saw an interesting juxtaposition in the Bonanza. On Friday an article detailed that "Washoe County Sheriff's Office deputies arrested 273 drivers for driving under the influence in 2007, according to a report recently issued by the WCSO. That's up from 230 arrests in 2006, 159 arrests in 2005 and 168 arrests in 2004. From 2004 to 2007, arrests showed a 63 percent increase."


Then on Sunday a reader wrote in to ask "when does aggressive law enforcement become police harassment?" He went on to assert that "If you are driving in the Incline area, especially on Highway 28 after 10 in the evening, your chance of being stopped by a WCSO patrol is probably 1000 percent higher than anywhere else in the county." I don't know how the writer went about determining this, but in 12 years of driving all over Incline I think I've been stopped twice – once for going too fast (I was) and once for missing a stop sign (I did), so maybe he and his friend are getting all the stops I'm missing.


It's pretty easy here in Incline to get agreement that the County sees us as a cash cow that should be milked whenever possible – I've stated that opinion myself from time to time. I think, however, that it's grossly unfair to tar Captain Steve Kelly and his deputies with this brush. Steve Kelly has lived and served here for a long time and has a genuine concern for the community. About a year ago he organized a series of conversations on the DUI problem in Incline – he did this on his own initiative, not as part of his job. His hope was that a group of citizens would take on the anti-DUI effort so that there was a more popular context for it than law enforcement and punishment, and that hope was realized in the formation of CARD – Citizens Advocating Responsible Driving – under Bill Horn's able leadership (full disclosure: I was the organizing chairman of CARD and am on its Board of Directors).

We have a genuine problem with DUI here as the numbers in Friday's article make clear. DUI is not a joke or just hi-jinks. People are killed and injured by drivers who have been drinking. The relative risk of death for drivers in single-vehicle crashes with a high blood alcohol content is 385 times that of a zero-BAC driver and for male drivers the risk is 707 times that of a sober driver, according to estimates by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. So I would ask the letter writer what he would like from our law enforcement agencies – lax enforcement resulting in deaths, injuries, and property damage or "aggressive enforcement" resulting in a lowering of DUI numbers?

If we train law enforcement officers to look the other way and enforce the laws loosely, we send the message to them and to potential lawbreakers that we aren't serious – the laws are just suggestions, to be broken if you think you can get away with it. If, as the writer says, the laws are not enforced the same in Reno or in the valley as they are here, then I say two things: first, thank God we live here and second, let them come up to our standard rather than try to lower our standards to theirs.

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