Photo credit: Sam Ross/theradioscout.com
Impaired driving arrests are up over 70% year-over-year
Even before the year ends, the East Greenwich Police Department has logged more than 30 driving while intoxicated arrests than in 2022. The department has made at least 79 arrests on DUI-related charges in 2023. That is up from 46 in 2022, 24 in 2021, and 18 in 2020*.
The high number of arrests can be chalked up to a combination of things, including the EGPD increasing its staff by almost a third since 2019, drinking habits people developed during the pandemic, and a grant paying EGPD officers overtime to track down DUI offenders, according to Major Robert Siple of the EGPD.
“There are a lot of vehicle stops that aren’t DUIs,” said Siple. “[Officers] are out there stopping motor vehicle infractions and then dealing with whatever comes out of that.” Sometimes, that includes a driver who appears to be intoxicated.
When it comes to who is driving under the influence and from where that answer varies widely. So far this year, young, old and middle aged drivers have been arrested for DUI infractions and they include EG residents, and people from neighboring communities and other states.
Siple said he would guess that half of impaired drivers are coming from bars and restaurants, while the other half is coming from private residences. While he acknowledges that bars and restaurants have a duty not to over serve patrons, career drinkers can fool bar staff into thinking they are less intoxicated than they are. And he is worried about how much alcohol people are drinking at at home without any oversight.
“This is just my opinion,” he said, but people were “drinking more” when in quarantine during the pandemic. He later explained, “When you were home and got off the couch, that’s one thing, but you’re in an establishment, and now you have to get behind the wheel.”
And while he believes many restaurants and bars in town are “good” about not overserving customers, the high blood alcohol levels officers are recording during some DUI arrests cause him to believe that “these are people you would never know” are unable to drive until “you get them behind the wheel.”
The EGPD receives grant money regulated by the state from federal dollars provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This money allows EGPD officers to be paid overtime to “specifically target” DUI infractions, according to EGPD Sergeant Shane Dinagen, who is tasked with applying for the funding.
Along with DUI-related enforcement, the NHTSA provides separate grant money through the state to the EGPD for things like seatbelt enforcement, catching speeding drivers, and those using a phone while driving.
The DUI “numbers are rising” despite this grant money being in place year-over-year for more than a decade, according to Dinagen. He accounts for the increase in DUI arrests to “young, aggressive” officers who have carved out DUI arrests as their “niche.”
“We’re out there,” Dinagen said. “We’re not hiding it.”
He said that he would be using this year’s increased DUI arrest numbers to justify more grant funding for next year to target impaired drivers.
Not Just Alcohol
Siple said that while EGPD officers have arrested some drivers for being under the influence of marijuana, the amount is “not significant” following Rhode Island’s legalization of the sale of the drug in 2022. He points to alcohol as the main factor in the majority of DUI arrests.
EG is not alone in high DUI numbers. The Rhode Island State Police have arrested over 870 people for DUI in 2023 (as of Nov. 1), a jump from the 732 total arrests in 2022.
Even if narcotics aren’t the primary cause of DUI, officers are turning more often to blood test analysis to determine what substance a driver is on if they determine alcohol is not causing the impairment. And while the blood test results take 30 days to process, Siple said that those findings “might substantiate the charge” or even allow EPGD officers to add chargers following an arrest.
In addition to the blood test, EGPD officers are using Drug Recognition Experts (DRE), who are police officers “trained to recognize impairment in drivers under the influence of drugs other than, or in addition to, alcohol,” according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Siple explained DREs use a “battery of tests” to figure out what substance is impairing a driver, and their findings can be used in court.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys that are very energetic and there are a few that have found this craft or niche in arresting for or suspicion and good detection of DUI,” EGPD’s Dinagen said. “And they’re going to continue those efforts and we’re not going to stop them.”
*Covid lockdowns started in March 2020.
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