So far in 2019, the Bellingham Police Department of Washington state has seen 110 DUI arrests through April 19, 2019. That is approximately one DUI arrest per day. According to Lieutenant Claudia Murphy that’s a 134% increase from the 47 arrests made in the same period in 2018.
It is not that there is all of a sudden a huge increase in the number of drivers who appear to be imbibing and getting behind the wheel, but rather that the Traffic Division of the Bellingham Police Department is emphasizing on what they believe is the first step in keeping their community safe. According to Sergeant Carr Lanham, the department’s success in achieving this arrest rate has much to do with the $20,000 grant they received from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission’s Target Zero Program.
The Target Zero Program aims to achieve “Zero Deaths & Zero Serious Injuries by 2030.” The grant money allowed the department to train their officers in recognizing drug use through a mentoring program with the department’s drug recognition expert, Officer Zack Serad. According to Sgt. Lanham, the grant and mentoring program allowed Officer Serad to take other officers with him to gain knowledge and experience in properly spotting and processing impaired drivers as well as allow him to do ride-alongs with other officers. Serad was also able to focus on training other officers in testing for intoxicants other than alcohol.
In addition to the mentoring program, increased staffing has allowed for more officers to be on duty on the streets during the peak DUI hours which Lt. Murphy has also credited for the higher arrest rates. Murphy has also attributed the “success” to a more “mature” staff in comparison to 2018.
The Bellingham Herald called this “an impressive start to 2019.” But is it really?
Sure, the number is much higher than last year, but the number doesn’t necessarily reflect the number of convictions. We have no real data about how many of these arrests are legitimate DUI arrests. Other counties in the area are not seeing this huge jump in arrest numbers. Remember, an arrest means nothing without a conviction because without a conviction a driver suspected of DUI is innocent.
We recently posted an article about “experts” in the police force being used in court (see article Should Courts Allow Cops to be “Experts” in Drug Intoxication for DUI Cases). Is a mentoring program by a police force drug recognition expert enough to gain the proper knowledge and experience to have made such a huge impact on the arrest rate? Or is there a possibility that, as a result of the mentoring program and focus on DUIs, the officers are a bit more quick to arrest drivers with DUI? If you recall from the article, “proficient” in the eyes of law enforcement is a 43% to 49% accuracy rate.
It would be interesting to know how the mentoring program may have focused on recognizing marijuana use as recreational use of marijuana has been legal in the state of Washington since 2012. Washington state does not utilize roadblocks as part of their system in controlling impaired drivers so it would also be interesting to receive more details about how the officers are even able to spot impaired drivers on the road. Sure, having more officers out on the roads will raise the probability of an impaired driver being recognized, but to the extent of a 134% increase? Seems a bit suspicious.
If in fact, a majority of the arrested drivers were legitimately impaired and the Bellingham police force was able to get them off the streets so that other drivers can have a safer environment to drive, then all the power to them. Being able to get the potentially dangerous drivers off the roads is an incredible feat, but if these numbers are just a façade making it look like they are 134% more effective than last year at catching drunk drivers, then we may need to take another look at a breakdown of this number.