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DUI - IS IT INCREASING OR DECREASING?
In a recent article published in the Miami Herald entitled: “DUI arrests plummet in Miami Beach, across Miami-Dade County” the author indicated that Miami, a city filled with world-famous nightclubs and bars is seeing a decline in the number of DUI arrests in Miami-Dada County. The Miami Beach Police Department, who once made curtailing drunk or high drivers a top priority — tallying a total of 1,299 arrests back in 2010, appears to have reduced its efforts in curtailing drunk driving.
According to the article, newly released Miami-Dade court statistics show that the department recorded a mere 138 DUI arrests in 2015, a startling low number in a county where DUI arrests have steadily been plummeting in recent years. Across Miami-Dade County, police made only 3,609 arrests in 2015, which is down nearly 20 percent from the year before and that is a off from 2010 when officers countywide cuffed a total of 6,321 suspected intoxicated drivers.
Some would argue the declining numbers are as a result of more educated drivers avoiding DUI by not consuming alcohol before driving; however, there is contrary argument, which is that there is little to no DUI enforcement these days and this explains the reduction in the number of DUI arrests not the educational components. Janet Mondshein, the executive director of Miami-Dade’s Mothers Against Drunk Driving, stated: “There’s just a few officers that do a lot of the arrests but there aren’t many and people’s lives are in jeopardy.”
According to the article, some officers and police union officials blame a lack of manpower, training and support from upper management as well as what has become a controversial program in court for first-time DUI offenders in Miami. Some believe that successful ride-sharing programs such as Uber and Lyft have cut at least some of the drunk drivers on the road; but Miami Beach Police Chief Daniel Oates acknowledged that at the request of city leaders, much of his police manpower over the past year has been dedicated to improving traffic in a city clogged with vehicles and not catching drunk drivers. “In an ideal world, we’d have more resources that could be dedicated to DUI enforcement,” Oates said in an interview. “I am concerned. I think there is more that we can do.”
Speaking of Uber, Uber has touted its success as one reason for the drop in DUI fatalities in other states. In Miami, according to the company, its ridership peaks past midnight, when people are out on the town. “In a market like South Florida, where drunk driving has traditionally been a concern, we are proud to be able to offer a safe, reliable transportation option that is helping thousands of people to get home safely after they have been drinking,” said KasraMoshkani, Uber’s South Florida general manager.
Now to be fair, DUI-related car crashes in Miami have fallen. Last year, the department said there were 47 DUI-related crashes, down from about 100 the year before and “The crime rate is down in Miami Beach, as it is nationally. The efforts of law enforcement and MADD have helped spread awareness of drunk driving,” said Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco. “But I still don’t think that correlates to such a low number of arrests.”
Some local criminal defense lawyers, and others at the Miami-Dade courthouse, point to the state attorney’s “Back on Track” program as one major reason for the decrease in DUI numbers. The program allows certain first-time DUI offenders to pay fines, complete community service and take classes to have their DUI charges reduced to reckless driving. Thousands of motorists have gone through the program since it began in 2011. Prosecutors say it generates hundreds of dollars in fines per case and some punishment for cases that were often lost when officers failed to show up for the trial. But many longtime DUI officers say the program is just too lenient according to the publication.
Local defense lawyers, who have also been hit with fewer clients, contend that many police officers have stopped making DUI arrests because Back on Track hits them in the pocketbook so there is essentially no motivation to nab drunk drivers in the Miami-Dade area. “Nobody is going to court to fight the DUIs and officers aren’t getting the overtime they used to get,” said Miami defense lawyer Michael Catalano.
The police department and union deny that court overtime plays a role in the drop; however, Miami Beach had long been one the most active agencies in busting drunk and high drivers. The department was the worst offender in a 1997 Miami Herald series, “Collars for Dollars,” that documented rampant overtime abuse on DUI cases in the county’s three largest police departments. The series led to reforms in how police overtime is doled out.
Robert Jenkins, the head of Miami Beach’s Fraternal Order of Police, also blames a lack of morale in a department that is in long-running contract negotiations. “Before, the department was very gung-ho; but times are changing and drinking and driving is just not a priority,” Jenkins said.
Oates, a relatively new police chief, insists morale is high but admits manpower is stretched thin. At the direction of the City Commission, the police department has embarked on a program called “Operation Traffic Blitz” to improve road flow. According to the publication, last year, officers ticketed nearly 3,000 motorists blocked intersections while towing thousands of freight vehicles blocking lanes.
Miami Beach isn’t the only agency to have dipped in DUI arrests. In the city of Miami, police officers logged only 466 arrests, down from a high of 1,013 arrests in 2012, records show according to the news report. “We’re still doing DUI enforcement, but it’s difficult to say why the arrests are down,” said Miami Maj. Delrish Moss, a spokesman. “We’d like to think that more people are getting the message and not getting behind the wheel.”
Additionally, the Florida Highway Patrol realized less than 400 arrests in 2015, 30 percent less than the previous year and the Miami-Dade Police Department, the county’s largest police department, actually went up slightly from the year before with a total of 1,530 arrests, although that number is down from a few years ago leading some to ask the same questions previously presented in the article.
One of the most aggressive departments for DUI enforcement was Pinecrest, a small South Miami-Dade City whose Police Department has only 48 sworn cops who grabbed 125 suspected drunk drivers last year — almost as many as Miami Beach with far fewer officers patrolling the roadways. Their efforts have led to a slew of awards; but again, the question still remains: are there fewer drunk drivers or fewer officers making drunk driving arrests?
Miami Herald: "DUI arrests plummet in Miami Beach, across Miami-Dade County"