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DUI Charges Have Been Steadily Falling in Washington -- Kitsap County as an Exemplar

Posted by Aaron J. Wolff | Feb 21, 2016 | 0 Comments

The state of Washington has been experiencing a decline in drunk driving charges over the last decade.  On a statewide level, charges are down approximately one-third, while Kitsap County has experienced a disproportionate two-thirds reduction, with 1,000 fewer cases in 2015 as compared to those filed in 2006.  Many are trying to figure out what the causes are for the decline in DUI charges, and perhaps it may be more difficult to pinpoint than originally thought.

Possible Causes Leading to DUI Charge Declines in Washington and Kitsap County

At the outset, it is important to recognize the subtle difference between there being fewer DUI charges as opposed to fewer people driving drunk on the road.  Investigating the possible causes for DUI charge declines leads to varying results depending on who you ask -- prompting the need to consider a variety of sources.

Some who work in the criminal justice system claim that Washington's tough DUI laws, coupled with advertising about the consequences of DUI, are the primary forces causing fewer drivers to get in their vehicle after consuming libations.  A less intuitive theory is that the laws pertaining to DUI have become too time-intensive and complicated for officers to deal with -- causing a shift in policing interest for law enforcement.  Yet another contributing cause could be the fact that Washington State Patrol -- the agency that specializes in DUI enforcement -- has lost numerous troopers, with over 100 vacancies in the ranks.  With fewer troopers on the road, accompanied with heavier work loads for those who remain, it just may not be possible to catch as many drunk drivers as in years before.

In Kitsap County, there used to be between four and six troopers patrolling the roads at any given time.  Now, there are two to three, as reported by Chris Old, the captain in charge of the State Patrol's district including Kitsap County.  The Kitsap County Sheriff's Office and Bremerton Police Department experienced similar reductions, with many traffic enforcement units being trimmed back as a result of the 2008 financial meltdown. Outside of there being less law enforcement on the road, the state Department of Transportation is also reporting fewer DUI crashes, citing a substantial drop from over 8,000 intoxicant-related crashes in 2006 to just over 5,500 in 2015.

Looking to Florida for Similar Patterns

In Florida, a similar pattern is emerging where fewer drivers are being charged for DUI.  In Tampa, reports indicate a substantial drop in DUI arrests, with Tampa PD noting a 31% reduction from the first half of 2014 as contrasted to the first half of 2015.  A spokesperson for the agency cited an expiration of a grant that funded extra patrols for Friday and Saturday nights as the main factor leading to the reduction -- implying that there may be just as many drunk drivers on the road.  Nearby Clearwater Police also reported a 31% decrease in DUI arrests in the first half of 2015, claiming vacancies in the agency's traffic enforcement sector as the culprit.  

The most shocking statistics come from Pasco County, where Sheriff Chris Norco has honed in on budget issues as the vector for staff shortages, driving deputies away from DUI enforcement, and focusing instead on “road patrol units where they are out there handling calls for service and responding to calls rather than being proactive and enforcing DUI laws.”  The Pasco Sheriff's Office experienced a whopping 46% drop in DUI arrests in the first six months of 2015 when compared to the same span in 2014.

One overlooked element that may be driving down DUI crashes is Uber, which could mean there are in fact fewer drunk drivers on the road.  Steve Haggerty, the spokesman for Tampa PD, claims that Uber has improved roadway safety by helping bar patrons find a safe ride home.  It may be too early to tell just how much of an impact Uber and other related mobile-ride services are really having on DUI crashes and arrests, especially in Washington.  If you have been charged with a DUI in Washington, navigating the complex bodies of law and the justice system can be overwhelming.  Contact Aaron Wolff, a distinguished Seattle DUI Defense Attorney to help you build a solid defense and ease your DUI woes.

About the Author

Aaron J. Wolff

A former DUI prosecutor, Aaron Wolff has over 16 years of experience in representing people accused of DUI and is recognized as one of the leading defense lawyers in Washington State. His relentless and passionate advocacy has lead to superb ratings and outstanding reviews from former clients.

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