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As you can see on today’s front page, law enforcement officials are chalking up the 18-month-old sale of alcohol to a wash – and rightly so.
Every official this reporter talked to shared the same sentiment. As Sheriff Buddy Stump put it, “I haven’t seen any more [DUIs], but I haven’t seen any less.”
The numbers themselves are somewhat conflicting – at first glance, it looks like DUI arrests went up (+37) while DUI convictions went down (-11). And if that’s as far as we take it, there are lots of questions to be asked.
However, if you look at 2007, before alcohol was sold in Spencer County, DUI convictions were higher (110) than DUI arrests (87).
Clearly, those numbers just don’t add up. How could more people be convicted of a crime in one year than the number that were arrested for it?
The answer is simple and complex all at the same time.
Some cases make it through our court system faster than others, and vice versa.
Apparently, some 2006 cases carried into 2007, seemingly skewing our data.
Likewise, some 2010 cases were not resolved in 2010 and will likely show up in the 2011 tallies at the end of the year.
This just goes to show that when you (and when I say you, I mean me) go looking into a story, sometimes the result isn’t quite what you thought it would be.
News-wise, how great would the headline “DUI arrests up 30 percent since county went wet” look across the front page?
How about “DUI convictions down almost 10 percent”?
While both of those statements are accurate, we run into a problem – both of those statements are accurate.
There is simply more to the story than the numbers themselves.
Police Chief Toby Lewis pointed out that a number of factors might have contributed to the increase in arrests. He says officers are better equipped to detect drunk drivers, and also, there are more officers out during more hours of the day, which should mean those numbers will rise.
Not to mention the growing popularity of cell phones. Today’s “need it now” society can also “report it now.”
The sheriff also mentioned an increase in grant money that is available to help local governments fund overtime and maybe even extra manpower.
My point is, it would have been easy to sensationalize this follow-up story, but it wouldn’t have been right.
The truth is, we’re not sure how exactly the sale of alcohol is impacting DUIs.
Arrests might be going up because more people are buying booze, but just as likely, they could be going up because more citizens are calling them in or because more officers and deputies are patrolling the streets.
We just don’t know.
What we do know is, each person arrested for DUI is one less drunk driver on the streets of our county.
And if by reporting these numbers this newspaper can deter one person from putting the car in drive while under the influence, then our research is worth it – no matter how sensational or how lackluster it is.