|Arrests up as officers, residents look to curb repeat drunken drivers|
|Written by RIck West/Janesville Messenger|
|Friday, 11 January 2013 12:29|
Officer Chad Sullivan, crime prevention specialist with the Janesville Police Department, administers a road sobriety test during a simulated operating while intoxicated traffic stop in downtown Janesville. Since launching Project Sober Streets two years ago, in an effort to curb repeat drunken driving, Janesville police officials report a nearly 10 percent increase in OWI arrests in the city.
JANESVILLE — Janesville Police Chief David Moore says his department is constantly assessing the greatest threats to residents in the city.
As a result of those assessments, department officials determined one of the greatest threats to residents is the high percentage of repeat drunken drivers who live in Janesville.
(See a map of where they live)
It’s been two years now since Janesville police launched the Project Sober Streets initiative to help curb repeat drunken driving. The project features an interactive website map, with information about repeat drunken drivers in Janesville.
In those two years, increased enforcement efforts and Project Sober Streets have apparently combined to result in an increase in drunken driving arrests.
In 2010, Janesville officers arrested 308 offenders for operating while intoxicated. During 2011, the first year of Project Sober Streets, there was an increase of 9.4 percent, with a total of 337 OWI arrests. It appears that 2012 will again exceed 2011 totals, with 185 arrests reported in the first six months of the year.
(See all the stories in this week's Janesville Messenger.)
The Project Sober Streets map includes the names, home addresses and even photos of repeat OWI offenders. The map can be accessed through the police department link on the city of Janesville website, www.ci.janesville.wi.us.
“OWI in Wisconsin is a problem, and I think Janesville is just an indication of the issues that are going on statewide,” Moore said.
A survey released in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicated that Wisconsin has more drivers under the influence than any other state. According to the survey, more than one in four adult drivers surveyed in the Badger state (23.7 percent) admitted driving while under the influence within the past year.
Eyes in the community
Leslie Reid, administrative assistant with the police department who is responsible for updating the website map, said Chief Moore envisioned the initiative to be very similar to sex offender websites, where residents can identify offenders living in their area and keep an eye out for them.
“As far as we knew there were no other communities doing this type of project when we first did ours,” Reid said of Project Sober Streets. “But there are a few other communities that have started doing similar projects since our project started.”
Moore said the goal of Project Sober Streets is to enable citizens to protect themselves and to assist police by reporting potential illegal activity by chronic drunken drivers (see related graphic).
“We know the harm that comes from intoxicated driving, the harm that it can cause our families and loved ones, so we believe that it’s another step we can take to help the public remain safe,” Moore said.
The offenders listed on the map are those who have been arrested five or more times for OWI, with the most recent offense within the last five years.
“We’re not looking at people who’ve had issues in the past and have since resolved them,” Reid said. “What we (list) are the offenders that obviously have a (continuing) problem and continue to drink after receiving numerous OWIs.”
Moore said the map also is beneficial to the police department’s patrol officers.
“Until we researched this and developed it, the officers were largely unaware where these people lived, too,” Moore said. “Now the officers also are aware of the offenders in their patrol area.”
The information listed on the Janesville map is obtained from the state Division of Motor Vehicles. Only offenders with a Janesville address on their driver’s license are listed.
“Initially, we were going to post those persons with four or more (OWI) offenses, but the numbers were just too large, so we relented and went with five or more violations, with the most recent arrest being within five years,” Moore said. “If someone’s gone five years without a violation, we think there’s probably an indication they’ve changed their ways.”
The number of repeat OWI offenders in Rock County is significant. According to the most recent Wisconsin Department of Transportation reports, there are 210 offenders in Janesville with five or more OWI convictions. When the list is reduced to include only those with an offense within the last five years, there were 74 offenders, 55 of whom are indicated on the map and 19 currently incarcerated. Offenders who are incarcerated are not listed until, and only if, they return to reside in Janesville.
Reid said Janesville officials must go through the list the state provides to determine those who fit the five OWI, five-year criteria.
“The state’s not able to sort that out for us, before we get it, so there’s quite a bit of leg work to get the data on the website,” Reid said. “And unfortunately, a lot of people don’t always update their address with the DOT ... ”
Reid also pointed out that OWI offenders are not required to register with the state like sex offenders are.
“Initially we were thinking we would update the list every six months, but quite honestly, it’s too time consuming to be able to maintain that amount of updates,” Reid said.
The department now plans to update the map on an annual basis.
Moore said the interactive map was popular when it was first launched on the city website.
“Early on we had so many hits, that we had a hard time keeping the computer infrastructure working,” Moore said. “We had hits from all over the world looking at it, but that’s gone down over time.”
Reid said the department even received letters in the first year from some of the OWI offenders.
“They thought this is a great project and hoped it would help encourage other people to not drink as much, so we do find it to be a valuable project,” Reid said.
The cost to initiate and maintain Project Sober Streets is minimal, Moore said.
“There were no costs, just our (department’s) labor on it,” Moore said. “There are many enforcement efforts that we work on throughout the year, but this was the next logical piece in welcoming the public to this issue.
“We still believe in it and think it’s a good project for the police department.”
|Last Updated on Friday, 11 January 2013 12:43|