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A broken system?

Posted: August 21, 2011 - 8:00am  |  Updated: August 22, 2011 - 10:31am

As of Friday, Alaska State Troopers and the Kenai and Soldotna police departments will be participating in a nationwide, three-week-long "intensive crackdown" on impaired driving.

According to KPD Investigator Jay Sjogren, this means Kenai and Soldotna police will be out patrolling beyond their normal bounds, such as up toward Nikiski or closer to Sterling. This "multi-jurisdictional approach" includes more overtime for officers, and consequently more cop cars out on the roads.

That sort of concentrated effort isn't terribly rare. Usually, as with this one, they come around Labor Day weekend or Memorial Day weekend to curb the inevitable increase in alcohol consumption and poor judgement.

But, does the answer to curtailing the death and damage caused by driving under the influence lie in more enforcement, or more prevention efforts?

Public defender William Taylor believes if the area was serious about fixing the impaired driving problem, local government would invest in two things: more education, and public transportation.

"There's a problem in the area that there's no public transportation," he said. "And cabs are very, very expensive."

Sjogren concurs with this observation, noting a lack of public transit paired with the sprawling nature of the Peninsula means people need to drive almost everywhere.

"If you want to go and party with your friends," Sjogren said, "it's a good chance that you might live in Kasilof, Sterling, or North Kenai and you have to drive all the way into Kenai or Soldotna to be at a bar."

If a fraction of the money spent on incarcerating impaired drivers was redistributed and invested in a bus system connecting Kenai, Soldotna and the Kalifornsky Beach area, the number of impaired drivers would drop considerably, Taylor argues.

Instead, he contends, society is more interested in punishing people after the fact rather than implementing infrastructure to keep the problem from manifesting itself to begin with.

"The money is there, and we're choosing to spend it a certain way," Taylor said. "We're choosing to go out and 'get people' and punish them instead of preventing it in the first place."

When a driver is arrested for his or her first DUI offense, the monetary consequences are staggering: court fines, vehicle impoundment and license reinstatement fees, ignition interlock device installation and maintenance, attorney fees, SR22 increased insurance, and assessment and treatment compliance add up to thousands upon thousands of dollars.

Then there's the loss of driving privileges for 90 days, which is a nail in the coffin for many who depend on their transportation to work and to support themselves and their family.

"We see that time and time again where people get their license revoked after being charged with a DUI," Sjogren said. "A lot of these people are repeat offenders on a DWLR (driving while license revoked), and it turns into a vicious cycle where they keep getting arrested for driving without that license that was revoked because of a DUI."

Taylor recalls a client whose parole ended at midnight on March 18. The man was picked up at 11:45 p.m. while driving home from work. The man explained to Taylor that it was a $40 cab ride to and from work, and that $80 was basically all the money he made in a day.

"Once you get your license suspended, it kind of turns into this spiral," Taylor explained. "'There's no public transportation, but I have to get to work, so how am I going to get there? Well, I'm going to drive.' So you end up driving and you get stopped again, you get another suspension, another reinstatement fee, and it's one of these spiraling situations."

Sjogren has seen this happen, and those trapped in this cycle become embittered and start blaming the system or think the police are picking on them when, ultimately, the officers are just doing their jobs.

"We're not going out of our way to make peoples' lives miserable; that's not our goal," Sjogren stated. "Our goal is to keep the roads safe and enforce laws that are set for us to follow."

Taylor balked at the suggestion that public service announcements and other "scare tactics" - like looming billboards with stern-looking state troopers - qualify as prevention efforts.

In Ohio, where he used to practice, first-time DUI offenders either had to spend three consecutive days in jail (mandatory in Alaska), or they could participate in a three-day driver intervention program.

Taylor's area program was called "Steering Clear." Offenders paid out-of-pocket for a spare - no television, no radio - bedroom in a hotel, where they spent three days learning about the hazards of drinking and driving.

Instead of just showing graphic pictures to demonstrate the horrors that can come as a consequence of driving under the influence, the class also delved into the science of what alcohol does to the brain and body. It also revealed how a person might often feel OK to drive, when he or she certainly is not under legal standards.

"Instead of just punishment, we're trying to teach them something while we're at it," Taylor said of the program.

He also noted that education is not the only step toward preventing the problem, but that the Peninsula needs to adopt a multi-pronged approach besides PSAs and increased enforcement.

Ultimately, no excuses can be made for someone who makes the conscious decision to get behind the wheel while intoxicated. The law and the police officers are not responsible for the situation: the drunk or otherwise impaired driver is the only one to blame.

"It just comes down to making good choices," Sjogren concluded. "And why folks can't seem to do that all the time, I don't know."

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Tonichelle
11
Points
Tonichelle 08/21/11 - 10:29 am
0
0
Oh gee do something stupid and...

Gee I feel *so* very sorry for that first time offender who gets more than a wrist slap. S/He wouldn't be in that "vicious spiral" if they made the right decision in the first place. It's not the cop's fault that your client went and got behind the wheel while impaired. "More Education?" how much MORE do they need? They can't get the law right after how many offenses?! They don't learn because they don't care. You can scream it from the rooftops 24 hours a day and the idiot will still get wasted and still get in a car. The peninsula is full of people who aren't licensed and don't care to be driving around. I'm all for a crackdown.

AKMaineIac
14
Points
AKMaineIac 08/21/11 - 12:21 pm
0
0
DUI is not the offenders' fault? Operating after suspension?

Okay. Give us all a break alright. Nobody is responsible for these meat heads being out there drunk on the road, and without a license, but the meatheads. The vast majority of us are home in the evening, because we've got jobs and have to work to support them.

No excuses, no explications. These attorneys are pretty good at deflecting responsibility and minimizing the crimes involved.

There's no public transportation? Get a CAB! You lost your license from being stupid and getting caught drinking and driving? So sorry, "Can't do the time, don't do the crime."

Everybody knows it's illegal to be out there impaired. I hear the old line constantly, "But I only had two." Bullcrap, if your blood alcohol level was over 0.08% you had more than two, or they were REEEEEALLY big glasses.

witchwitch
51
Points
witchwitch 08/21/11 - 02:07 pm
0
0
Law enforcement in Alaska fail to protect the citizens

The DUI laws and law enforcement acts to find the drunk drivers net many innocent people. The last two times that I have been pulled over the officer asked me why my eyes were red. Then they proceed to shine lights in my face, although it has never gone beyond that for me. I don't drive under the influence.

A drunk driver is easy to spot and law enforcement should focus on impaired drivers and not try to create more. I don't want drunk drivers on the road, but I further don't want to be harassed in their witch hunt. Too many time, the law and its enforcers cross the line and fail to respect the people they took an oath to serve.

We should focus on severely punishing those who are actually and obviously impaired, but should not subject innocent citizens to such treatment. The reasons I have been pulled over were for a minor traffic infraction, not probable cause for impaired driving.

It would be more productive to focus on obvious violators, rather than to create more of them. Citizens would have more respect for law enforcement officials if they were not targeted and tested, when they are not drunk or impaired.

Like it or not, if I were chosen for a jury, and I am called occasionally, I would not convict a person based on any subjective test, particularly a breath test. Demonstrate that the citizen is impaired and I will then convict. The judge will tell the jury that they may judge the facts, not the law. I will judge the law, which is my constitutional right, regardless of any judicial mandate otherwise. I believe that innocent people have been wrongfully prosecuted and punished and that causes disrespect for the laws that govern us. I want to drive on roads that are safe but the system is truly broken. Too many now lack trust and respect for our system and its getting worse every day.

We need to apply good sense, sanity and respect for citizens in the enforcement of our laws. These programs often fail to protect the people they are designed to serve. We are Americans and do have rights, both to drive on safe roads and to be free from malicious and wrongful prosecution. I believe there is a reason that the largest growth industry in Alaska is the criminal justice system. The system is broken.

PS - I have never been convicted for impaired driving or any offense other than minor traffic violations. I have seen people who were innocent victimized (including people charged with DUI for blowing below .08, while showing no sign of intoxication). That is wrong.

AKMaineIac
14
Points
AKMaineIac 08/21/11 - 03:37 pm
0
0
@witchwitch

"The DUI laws and law enforcement acts to find the drunk drivers net many innocent people."

When has anyone ever been convicted of operating under the influence when they showed no signs of intoxication and had a BAC under 0.08%? How can you say they "net many innocent people". You yourself said you were questioned after being stopped and went on your way after.

"It would be more productive to focus on obvious violators, rather than to create more of them."

You mean, "obvious" like their car planted in the front end of your parents' car? How about your own car?

"I have seen people who were innocent victimized (including people charged with DUI for blowing below .08, while showing no sign of intoxication). That is wrong."

It's not just wrong, it's impossible...

Nobody has ever been charged with and convicted of DUI without showing signs of intoxication when they were below 0.08% BAC. UNLESS they were involved in an accident and made incriminating statements to the officer during the investigation of the accident.

Officer: "You said earlier you had a "couple drinks" with dinner. Do you think the alcohol impaired you or contributed to the accident?"

Person: "I dunno... it might have...

Officer: "Would you have avoided the accident if you weren't drinking?"

Person: "Yes."

"You have the right to remain silent... "

I know... been there, done it. People are stupid. The rest of us shouldn't have to be in danger because they're stupid. Want to be stupid? Stay off the road. Because if you don't, you're not going to have any normal people feeling sorry for you.

I resent the hell out of anyone stopping me, whether it be for a minute or an hour, at some "Safety Checkpoint" because idiots don't have brains enough to stay the heck off the road when they're drinking. I resent having to mind my speed more than normal because there's more officers out on patrol in a wider area, because idiots can't stay off the road when they're drinking. I am sick of idiots.

witchwitch
51
Points
witchwitch 08/21/11 - 07:49 pm
0
0
Here's how possible it is...

In 1991, Dr. Spurgeon Cole of Clemson University conducted a study on the accuracy of Field Sobriety Tests. His staff videotaped individuals performing six common field sobriety tests, then showed the tapes to 14 police officers and asked them to decide whether the suspects "had too much to drink and drive". Unknown to the officers, the blood-alcohol concentration of each of the 21 DUI subjects was .00%.

The results: the officers gave their opinion that 46% of these stone sober people were too drunk to drive! In other words, the field sobriety tests were hardly more accurate at detecting intoxication than flipping a coin. Cole and Nowaczyk, "Field Sobriety Tests: Are they Designed for Failure?", 79 Perceptual and Motor Skills Journal 99 (1994).

Now the Field sobriety Test is the procedure for determining if a person who blows under .08 is intoxicated. And almost half the people who were stone cold sober failed. How can you say that it's "impossible" for a sober person to be railroaded? When a scientific test was done almost half the accused perps would have gotten a ride to the big house and would be forced into an already bloated criminal justice system at great expense to the taxpayer and to the now accused criminal.

Please don't waste your time by trying to tell me it just ain't so.

keeneye
10
Points
keeneye 08/21/11 - 08:08 pm
0
0
"There's a problem in the

"There's a problem in the area that there's no public transportation," he said. "And cabs are very, very expensive."

-Sjogren concurs with this observation, noting a lack of public transit paired with the sprawling nature of the Peninsula means people need to drive almost everywhere.-

"If you want to go and party with your friends," Sjogren said, "it's a good chance that you might live in Kasilof, Sterling, or North Kenai and you have to drive all the way into Kenai or Soldotna to be at a bar."

Boo Frickity Hoo! Cabs are expensive? Have you considered how expensive a vehicle accident caused by a drunk driver is? All told how much does it COST everyone involved?- (forget about it if they hit one of the city's trees-another story) what about a totaled car(or cars), dead passenger(s), dead driver of the other car. How many times do you hear that the drunk walks away?
Want to party? 1) plan ahead get a designated driver. 2) Stay home and let everyone stay at your house. 3) Move somewhere that has public transportation available. It's because of the sprawling nature of the Peninsula that public trans. would not be practical. Why should we (yes, us taxpayers) be burdened for someone who needs a ride because he/she wants to go get smashed? Does that just not sound completely ridiculous to you? Does not YOUR Liberty end at MY doorstep?

And the part about society wanting to punish people......drivel.
It's the LAW not to get behind any wheel while intoxicated. Period. end of story. How many lives will it take for people to "GET" it. Society not holding people accountable for their actions is punishment. Punishment that the innocent are paying for-sometimes dearly.

AKMaineIac
14
Points
AKMaineIac 08/21/11 - 10:27 pm
0
0
Please don't waste your time by trying to tell me it just ain't

That what isn't so? That a "screening tool" has a high false positive rate? Sure it does... So what? If the BAC comes back less than 0.08 then the officer has to "prove" the individual was under the influence of alcohol by other means. Usually, as in my example, it's self-incriminating statements and conduct. The BAC in that case is actually not likely to become an issue at trial unless the defense brings it up. Because the prosecution sure isn't going to do so.

Most prosecution stops when the BAC comes back under 0.08% unless there are circumstances that are abnormal. Like and accident, or other drugs involved and a certified drug recognition expert or medical professional is able to give testimony.

spwright
1376
Points
spwright 08/22/11 - 06:18 am
0
0
Defence Attorney

Mon. 8/22/11
Yo WitchWitch Sounds to me like You need to devote your time to locating a Good Defence Attorney instead of rattling on & on about how Unfair the system is.

Of course it's UNFAIR, always has been, always will be.

How much Justice can You Buy ?

O K now go on a Rant & Rave about that one & waste some more time.

SPW "Airborne"

GillGuy
0
Points
GillGuy 08/22/11 - 11:10 am
0
0
Not What But Who's Broken

This is all about expanding the social programs. Both Anchorage and Fairbanks have public transit, but the DUI is still terrable. This is about back door approaches to expand pet projects. The next thing is ultimatly have residential facilities such as Anchorage and Fairbanks will have for individuals that have extensive criminal records and extensive substance abuse. It has to be about making every one responsable for what they do. Most people in society at some point or another need some kind of helping hand. But to start complete new programs funded by government entities is nonsence. If you need a helping hand get it from your family, either extended or not, neighbor, or friends, or co-workers. Pet programs don't go away, they expand.

alaskanni
55
Points
alaskanni 08/23/11 - 01:19 pm
0
0
Really akmainelac

I'm not condoning drinking and driving but it sounds like you want to be able to pick and choose what laws you like. "I resent having to mind my speed more than normal because there's more officers out on patrol in a wider area, because idiots can't stay off the road" . Speeding is also against the law and kills people. You shouldn't have to worry about minding your speed if you are following the law. Pot-Kettle-black.

AKMaineIac
14
Points
AKMaineIac 08/23/11 - 02:16 pm
0
0
alaskanni

Nobody who fails to see the difference, ethically and practically, between speeding a few miles an hour over the limit and drinking and driving, has no business coming here and pronouncing anyone a pot, a kettle, or anything else for that matter. You lack the ability to discern the difference between a wholly reckless and thoughtless act that produces a dangerous situation anytime it occurs (drinking and driving) and the offense of "speeding" a few miles an hour over the posted limit which rarely produces a dangerous situation.

"Here's your sign."

And, if they're not "different" then why do they have vastly differing consequences and penalties? You are most likely the only person in the world who can not derive the difference between the two offenses.

I used to work in law enforcement, so you know... I cut alot of breaks for speeding and other minor offenses. I never, in 13 years, ever, cut a break for drinking and driving. No way, not for anybody.

alaskanni
55
Points
alaskanni 08/23/11 - 02:50 pm
0
0
Ohhh

You are so much more enlightened than I am. I bow to you.

AKMaineIac
14
Points
AKMaineIac 08/23/11 - 02:58 pm
0
0
Really?

Give it a break. You poked the bear and he said you shouldn't do that and provided some explanation. Get over it, or respond with something factual and rational to discuss.

akmscott
131
Points
akmscott 08/23/11 - 07:27 pm
0
0
Or as it's otherwise

Or as it's otherwise called"The doughnut drive"!

Raoulduke
2991
Points
Raoulduke 08/24/11 - 08:11 am
0
0
Should Know Better

Since Driving under the influence has been on the books for quite some time,and I believe. Near everyone has heard of the law from T.V,magazines,and schools.So! Has No one heard of a DESIGNATED DRIVER?This driver would PREVENT any,and all legal actions if one doesn't act a fool.While being driven from place to place.

soldotna
50
Points
soldotna 08/27/11 - 10:09 am
0
0
You don't have to be 0.8 to get a DUI

the police use this tacit fairly often. The troopers know more then likely they will loose this case in court but it does not matter because even after that you will still have to fight DMV to keep you drivers license.

I was with a girl that got hauled off to jail in pretty much ruined her life for 18 months and she only blew a .04. IMO its the trooper that should have been taken to jail for putting her though that.

The whole system is broken any ways. The Police use to be protect and serve. Now they are in the business of making money to get more to get more things for their business.

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