February 28, 2009
Tim Pratt -
STARKVILLE - The number of DUI arrests in Starkville has increased steadily in recent years, but city police are working hard to combat the problem.
From Oct. 1, 2007, to Sept. 30, 2008, the Starkville Police Department arrested 358 people for driving under the influence. By comparison, 343 people were arrested for DUI between Jan. 1, 2006 and Dec. 31, 2006, (the last available data).
In 2005, Starkville police arrested 318 people for DUI and in 2004 the total was 310. Back in 2003, only 301 people were arrested for DUI.
Starkville police Chief David Lindley believes a number of factors have caused the increase. One reason could be the city in recent years has extended the hours people can purchase alcohol, he said. The city also approved the sale of cold beer and relaxed the requirements for businesses wanting to sell alcohol, he said, which could have contributed to the situation.
Another reason the city has seen more arrests could be because the Starkville Police Department has expanded from one full-time DUI enforcement officer to three, Sgt. Shawn Word said.
"DUIs are everywhere," Word said. "DUIs are all over the state of Mississippi. We just happen to have units that focus strictly on enforcing DUI laws, so we''ve got more people out there looking strictly for that offense than maybe some other agencies."
The city''s increasing popularity also could be a factor, Lindley said.
"As we have become more of a destination for socializing - we have about a 50-mile draw area for people coming to Starkville to patronize restaurants and bars - it has increased the number drivers who are drinking at any one point in time," Lindley said. "Sometimes they try to drive home."
The Oktibbeha County Sheriff''s Department does not keep statistics on the number of people it arrests for DUI, Deputy Chief George Carrithers said, though he has seen an increase in recent years.
"When the city extended their drinking hours, we saw a small increase in DUIs then," Carrithers said.
Attempts to get figures from the Mississippi Highway Patrol also were unsuccessful.
To help combat the area''s DUI problem, Starkville police set up 139 sobriety checkpoints around the city from October 2007 to September 2008. The department also received grant money from the state, which has been used for enforcement of minors illegally consuming alcohol, DUI equipment and DUI training. The money also is being used for overtime pay and a DUI enforcement officer''s salary.
Starkville police are concerned about the prevalence of people driving under the influence, but say it could be a lot worse. Lindley cites the success of Mississippi State University''s Night Route shuttle, which takes students between the school and downtown Starkville. The shuttle typically is packed full of MSU students when bars downtown let patrons out for the night.
"We''re one of the few communities in the state with a bus transportation system, which has helped significantly," Lindley said.
Word says he has seen more and more bar and restaurant patrons utilizing local taxi companies and leaving their cars in parking lots.
"People know we''re out there, they know we''re looking, so more people are using the transit systems and taking taxis home when they''ve been drinking," Word said.
Compared to Starkville, the Oxford Police Department arrested 506 people for DUI from Oct. 1, 2007 to Sept. 30, 2008, Chief Mike Martin said. Attempts to get statistics for Columbus were unsuccessful.
A Blood Alcohol Content reading of .08 or higher for a person 21 or older is illegal. For a person younger than 21, the legal BAC limit is .02.