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Lodi’s DUI arrest rate is high

However, experts believe it’s not due to more drunk drivers — just more people getting caught

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Posted: Saturday, July 13, 2013 12:00 am

Compared to other cities in San Joaquin County, Lodi has a drinking and driving problem. Or does it? While Stockton’s population is more than twice the size of Lodi’s, both cities have arrested nearly the same number of drunk drivers since 2011.

Yet the Lodi Police Department has poured officers and thousands of dollars in grants into DUI patrol. DUI checkpoints are conducted frequently throughout the city, and special task forces canvass roads almost daily looking for intoxicated drivers.

Police officials say these efforts have fueled the high number of DUI arrests. And those involved in Lodi’s wine and spirits business say the city has earned a reputation of being especially tough on drunk drivers.

“People who live outside Lodi are afraid to come to Lodi and drink and drive,” said Jerry Wolfe, owner of the Whisky Barrel Saloon in Lodi. “It’s known as a city that arrests a lot of people for drunk driving.”

The number of drivers arrested for DUI in Lodi has stayed fairly consistent since 2009. During that time, the city reached a high of 364 arrests in 2011, and a low of 319 arrests in 2010.

In addition, Lodi ranked 65 out of 103 cities with similar population in California for DUI arrests, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety.

But Lodi arrests more people for DUI per capita than neighboring cities.

In 2012, Stockton’s DUI arrest rate per capita was .001, while Lodi’s was .005. And this year, both cities are on pace for a similar discrepancy between arrest rates.

But Lodi police officials say these numbers largely reflect their DUI efforts.

“If you have an emphasis on a certain type of enforcement, you’re going to end up with greater numbers,” Lodi Police Chief Mark Helms said. “And we do put a heavy emphasis on DUI.”

The department receives two substantial grants to aid DUI enforcement. These funds are used for DUI checkpoints, bringing in additional officers from other agencies to boost DUI enforcement during large events, hosting DUI awareness clinics and more. It’s also used to conduct saturation patrols in which officers are assigned to search solely for potential drunk drivers.

“If you look at all the grant money we have, we send out a lot of officers to look for and arrest drunk drivers,” said Lodi Police Lt. David Griffin, who is in charge of the traffic division.

Griffin said that the officers with the most DUI arrests have bragging rights around the department.

“For some (officers) it’s more of a competition to make the streets safer and make DUI arrests, as well,” he said. “It’s a pride thing and they make it a competition.”

Bar owners have recognized this effort by police to catch drunk drivers, and they say their customers have, too.

Wolfe, who’s owned the Whisky Barrel Saloon in Downtown for nearly two years, believes frequent DUI checkpoints and saturation patrols have caused customers to be cautious when they go out in Lodi.

“I live in Stockton, and the opinion of many Stocktonians is that Lodi is extremely strict on drunk drivers,” he said.

Other bar owners say that Lodi’s intense DUI enforcement has actually discouraged business.

Michael Warren, owner of Crush Kitchen + Bar in Lodi, says that droves of officers patrol and hide around his bar in Downtown Lodi, and it often scares customers from having even one drink.

“We’re just trying to do business here,” he said. “And it’s really frustrating as a business owner because there have been a few times when cops are parked in my back parking lot where my customers are.”

Cities throughout the county have gotten tough on drunk driving, and nationwide the definition of DUI has changed over the years, according to Brad Bishop, considered a national expert on DUI laws and enforcement. Bishop is a municipal judge in Hoover, Ala., and professor at Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.

“When I became a judge, .12 or higher was the presumed level of intoxication,” he said. “Anything below .12, the presumption was you were not too drunk to drive. Then DUI enforcement became more and more active. Now, in just about every state, the legal limit is .08.”

Bishop said that cities with a high number of DUI arrests aren’t always indicative of a problem, but rather the propensity of police to make arrests.

“It just depends on how much money in grants (police) have,” he said. “If you want to catch them, you can catch them.”

Not only are there numerous strategies to catch drunk drivers, but there are also an abundance of measures to prevent them.

Bishop says Alabama allows first DUI offenders to complete a rigorous and informative course about the dangers of drunk driving. Once completed, the charges are dropped and offenders are only responsible for court fees.

Bishop says this has greatly reduced the DUI recidivism rate in Alabama.

At the Whisky Barrel Saloon, Wolfe, who is involved in the designated driver program, hands out free, non-alcoholic drinks to designated drivers, as well as free food during barbecues. Also, the phone number for a free designated driver service hangs in his bar.

“I think it’s been very successful,” he said.

Warren believes the city should invest in more designated driver alternatives, such as expanding the current taxi cab service or developing a Downtown hotel.

“There are other solutions than writing them a ticket and throwing them in jail,” Warren said.

Lodi police designates some grant money for proactive solutions.

They conduct a program called “Every 15 minutes” at local high schools to teach teens about the dangers of drunk driving. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers volunteers hand out pamphlets about drunk driving at DUI checkpoints. And officers go to elementary schools to talk about the matter with children.

“There’s always so much more we can do, and we try to do what we can,” Griffin said.

And in Lodi, officers do almost everything they can.

“We try to be as many places as we can,” Griffin said. “A drunk driver can be anywhere.”

Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at krisa@lodinews.com.

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2 comments:

  • Erin Carroll posted at 5:03 pm on Sat, Jul 13, 2013.

    Erin Posts: 3

    Is the writer blaming the cops for doing their job vigilantly? "Let people drive drunk... it is good for business."

     
  • Doug Chaney posted at 7:25 am on Sat, Jul 13, 2013.

    advocate Posts: 499

    Lodi definitely has a drinking problem with the downtown saturated with bars, wine tasting rooms and restaurant bars, many with outdoor seating on public sidewalks where daily and each evening you can see the same old regular alcoholics perched imbibing in some sort of alcoholic frenzy with many being loud and belligerent and the proprietors of these businesses afraid to correct them for fear of losing a valued customer. The so called DUI checkpoints in Lodi, with all participants supposedly drawing overtime pay, have turned into nothing and with the addition of /license checkpoints to the title of these nothing but racial profiling, misdemeanor traffic citation and towing/impound traps rather than accomplishing the real mission of arresting impaired drivers. It is very irritating to see all the drunks driving around town during the constant wine events and wine strolls in downtown Lodi that require participants to consume alcohol and then have to drive their vehicle from one venue to the other and not have the DUI checkpoints either setup on those particular evenings or in an area very remote from the event, making sure that it would be the least impossible route for an impaired driver to take home after consuming too much alcohol and being impaired. The brain dead officer that plans these dui/license checkpoints, in my opinion, should be fired. Driving through one of these checkpoints looks like a big party with a catering truck to serve food to those who are lucky enough to get the gravy overtime duty, usually enough tow trucks to tow or impound dozens of cars, and enough personnel to staff a complete police station. Many of these checkpoints and other cities are conducted by a staff of six officers and tow companies that pay up to $75,000 for the exclusive right to tow and impound vehicles. Just why does the Lodi police department need so many personnel, including tow truck operators, the senior police officers and a catering truck to conduct these DUI/license checkpoints? This whole fiasco just makes me think that the Lodi police department is still afraid to embarrass one of the good old boys or girls by arresting them for a DUI incident and then having the notorious local newspaper ad to the embarrassment by glamorizing the incident in their failing five day a week paper. Maybe it's time for the Lodi police department to assign someone who has the gumption to plan these checkpoints on the evening's of these major wine events and wine wanderings to take care of the real problem of impaired drivers in and around the city of Lodi. The talk goes that if the word gets out that the city of Lodi is issuing too many DUI citations that this would affect the amount of people that would attend these events. There's no excuse for driving while impaired and when I hear the talk going around that the checkpoints on these nights of these events are being bypassed, I feel it's just a lame excuse for the city of Lodi and their police department to give a get out of jail free card to those who regularly attend these events and still insist on driving while impaired. There's talk that the dui blood alcohol limit will soon be downgraded to .05 and that will mean that the amount of alcohol consumed will be very little, maybe two drinks of glasses of wine, and you will officially be over the limit to operate a vehicle. And the fact that many of these participants are either open or closet alcoholics/addicts and maybe the fact that a citation or an arrest for DUI could possibly mean a positive change in their lifestyle on the road to sobriety. That is one of the biggest facts left out of these controversial checkpoints. The fact that the denial of alcoholism/addiction is revealed and hopefully the perpetrator will seek some help.

     

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