Driving under the influence (DUII) of alcohol and drugs has been a problem in our society for longer than I have been in law enforcement. So far this year, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office deputies have handled seven alcohol-related fatal crashes. That puts us on pace to surpass the 12 alcohol-related traffic fatalities we saw in 2015, which was also an increase from the previous year. Even more concerning is the fact that these numbers only represent the fatal crashes in JCSO jurisdiction; they don’t include the fatal crashes investigated by Oregon State Police or city police agencies.
We find these numbers to be alarming. When we see trends such as this, we take a closer look to try to find the reason for the increase. I believe it is safe to say that an increase in fatal crashes can be tied to an unfortunate reduction in DUII enforcement patrols in recent years. There are a few major factors affecting our availability to perform “discretionary policing” activities like DUII patrols.
Discretionary policing is what officers and sheriff’s deputies do when they are not responding to calls for service, investigating criminal cases, writing police reports, or completing other necessary tasks like training and court appearances. Discretionary policing includes traffic enforcement, public education, field interviews, directed patrols, and other types of proactive policing aimed at public safety and crime prevention.
Over the past three years, we have received more calls for service from the public, which obviously consumes more time. Also, police work in general has become more complicated over the years; handling cases tends to take more time than it did in the past. When you combine this with the perpetual problem of short-staffing, it means police officers and sheriff’s deputies simply have less time in the day for discretionary policing.
Another factor is our lack of space in the jail. The current facility has been outdated for over a decade. Offenders are often released before they can appear before a judge, and out re-offending in the community. This leaves officers and deputies handling more criminal complaints and calls for service instead of engaging in discretionary policing.
Through education, hopefully we can help people make better choices about driving. But, curbing DUII requires consistent enforcement. The only way to really put a dent in it is to have patrols dedicated to looking for offenders. We need people to know that if they drive under the influence, they will be caught. We are working hard to get more deputies out on the road to do just that.
In addition, we need help from you. We need good citizens to police themselves, so to speak. That means not letting family and friends get behind the wheel after they have been drinking, and calling 911 to report drivers who appear impaired. Remember, an impaired driver on the road is a dangerous crime in progress. We need to get them off the road before somebody gets hurt, or worse.
Here are a few simple tips to help make the road safer for all of us:
- Plan ahead when going out to socialize with friends. Designate a sober driver or arrange for a ride home ahead of time.
- Call a taxi. Cab fare is much less expensive than the costs you will face if you are arrested for DUII. When I taught DUII prevention classes, I would tell folks to put a $20 bill in their pocket and save it for the end of the night.
- Call a family member or friend if you find yourself in a bind. Your loved ones would probably rather pick you up once than shuttle you around for 90 days or longer while your license is suspended for DUII.
- The same rules apply for marijuana! It may be legal to use marijuana recreationally in Oregon, but it is still illegal, and unsafe, to drive while impaired by the drug.
- Make the right choice. If there is any question in your mind whether you should drive after drinking, you probably shouldn’t. Remember, alcohol can lower your inhibitions and affect your judgment, usually not for the better.
Take care and please do your part to help us keep our roads safe.
Captain Nathan Sickler