DWI Enforcement Big Business for Police and Local Governments?

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Recently, the Houston Chronicle reported that overtime attributable to DWI cases meant big money for some police officers. One specific officer cited by the Chronicle more than doubled his annual salary, to $172,000, based on overtime committed to the department's DWI Task Force. Other officers on the task force also earned six-figure salaries due to overtime investment.

Some defense attorneys, according to the Chronicle, claim that officers manipulate cases, involving multiple officers and switching defendants in order to accumulate more overtime hours.

Combine this with the comparatively large sums of money generated through citations and vehicle seizures that occur during DUI checkpoints, but that have nothing whatsoever to do with DUIs, and there seems to be money everywhere: Fines, costs, fees, impoundment charges and more for the cities and counties involved, and overtime payment sometimes in excess of 100% of base salary for the officers who make it happen.

Sacramento, California has netted hundreds of non-DUI charges from its DUI checkpoints, but Los Angeles County has a different approach. During 2004, the L.A. Times reported, Los Angeles County released at least 1,683 inmates who'd been convicted of DUI early in order to save money. It seems that financial returns are at the root of a lot of decisions that are touted as being in the public interest.

In fact, when the state of Florida took over court operations that cut into local "DUI revenues" a little more than a year ago, local officials were quick to question whether "expensive and time consuming" DUI patrols would remain a high priority without that revenue. Although it would certainly be more difficult for local governments to keep up such patrols without funding to support them, the "priority" question seems to indicate that the emphasis on DUI arrests isn't necessarily rooted in public safety.

Ken Schram at Komo4 News in Seattle didn't think so either, when he related earlier this year that Washington state legislators voted to make it possible for a drunk driver to be convicted four times in seven years without facing felony charges because putting drunk drivers in prison was just too expensive.

The outcomes are very different-decreased prosecution and shorter jail sentences to save money in some areas, and stepped-up enforcement to generate revenues in others. The only sure thing seems to be that the bottom line plays a significant role in the way drunk driving is treated across the country.


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