JONESBORO/HARRISBURG, AR (KAIT) - Jonesboro Police told Region 8 News Friday 697 DWI charges were filed in the city in 2008. At the request of Region 8 News, Sgt. Steve McDaniel discovered nearly 25% of all DWI charges filed last year involved repeat offenders. McDaniel said the city recorded 154 repeat offenders on DWI.
McDaniel said it's a problem that hasn't gone away. While the numbers for 2009 don't reflect a spike in arrests, police expect more charges to be filed later in the year during weekends and holidays.
"The officers really start looking for DWIs at peak periods of DWI that we know people drink and that's usually the early morning hours during the weekends," said McDaniel.
McDaniel said most DWI arrests are made during peak drinking hours. He said when people gather for a round of drinks, some decide to make the poor decision and drive afterwards.
"Labor Day is one of those big holidays where we know there will be a lot of drinking going on. Of course, any time there is drinking going on, there are people that are going to take that chance and get in the car and drive impaired," said McDaniel.
McDaniel said police look for signs of impairment. If a person crosses the center line or drives erratically, then officers are allowed to make a stop. After the officer establishes contact with a DWI or DUI suspect, he/she can continue an investigation until it is determined the driver is intoxicated or not.
"When they see those things happen, the officers can stop those individuals and then investigate a little bit further to see if there is an intoxicated driver," said McDaniel. "A big part of traffic enforcement is looking for intoxicated drivers. When officers are out there working traffic enforcement around intersections or in parts of the highway where cars may be speeding, they're also looking for intoxicated drivers."
Jonesboro Police participate in the STEP program, which allows the department to give officers extended hours to fight DWI.
"This is something that goes above and beyond what normal patrol hours are. This is overtime hours that are available for the police officers who work DWI enforcement protection, so there are a lot of things that are being thrown at the detection of DWI and it's very effective," said McDaniel.
Region 8 News also spoke with law enforcement officials in Poinsett County. Sheriff Larry Mills said his primary concern with repeat DWI offenders is that they are more likely to violate the law multiple times.
"You do it the first time, it doesn't happen again. Lesson learned. You go forth. Repeat offenders, they know what the consequences are. They've been there and I guarantee you someone that has a DWI one on their record, they know what the consequences of DWI 2 are. If they have a DWI 2, they know what DWI 3 means. My major concern with that is someone that has a prior history with DWIs may be willing to take greater risks," said Mills.
"I think the deputies, them being the first responders and them being the ones on the street and actually making the arrests, I think there is a certain degree of frustration," said Mills.
According to Mills, officers risk their lives each time they make a stop.
"For those of us that are in law enforcement, we're not here for the money. Law enforcement has never been a high paid profession and generally people that become involved in law enforcement and make a career out of it or stay with it, those folks are the ones that do it from the heart," said Mills. "These same people turn around sometimes in a matter of hours or days and repeat the same offense and I think the officer questions himself or herself and is like, you know, I'm out here trying to do what's right, I'm trying to make everything safer and better and what's not working?"
Mills told Region 8 News he believes the consequences for drinking and driving should be high.
"Frustration from court cases and things like that can cause an officer to sort of look back and think, maybe is it really worth me risking my life every time I make a traffic stop," said Mills.
Mills said when he was at the Sheriff's Convention in Little Rock; an Oklahoma sheriff compared drunk driving to a suspect with a gun.
"He was talking about how dangerous an individual that's intoxicated behind the wheel is, even compared to someone with a gun, and in fact there's a training video that's titled, "The Bullet that a Vest won't Stop" and it's talking about a vehicle," said Mills.
Mills said he becomes concerned with officers pulling over intoxicated subjects because it's not known what that person is thinking.
"I think that leads to high speed chases in a lot of cases because people realize what they're facing and they've got what we call 'courage juice' in their system, so they just decide to flee from police," said Mills.
"Alcohol obviously impairs your judgment. When people begin to drink, their judgment is impaired anyway. They begin to feel like they are okay to drive, so there's some kind of odd things happen when people start drinking and they make judgments that aren't necessarily rational," said McDaniel.
McDaniel said campaigns like Click It and Ticket work well to inform people about the dangers of drinking and driving.
"It starts with public education. We try to get the word out that it's a very dangerous thing to drink and drive and there are police out there looking for intoxicated drivers and if you are stopped and you have been drinking to the point of intoxication, you will be arrested. You will go to court and the judge will likely put you in jail or give you some serious fines and public service work and things like that," said McDaniel.
"You can increase fines and penalties to a point that it becomes such a large thing with the offender that at that point they may be willing to take someone's life," said Mills. "It's hard to reach that happy medium between what's too harsh and what's too lenient."
"I would think they would probably make a reflective decision versus when they're inebriated an impulsive decision. I think that's what gets them in trouble and eventually ends up in a car crash on a highway somewhere," said Mills.
"Unless you put someone in jail or take their car away and not give them access to any car, there is still a chance that you'll have someone try to repeat the offense. My greatest concern is my family on the road, your family on the road and what the police can do to make sure these DWI suspects don't even make it out there and drive," said McDaniel.