March 18, 2010 9:44:00 AM
Tim Pratt -
While the number of drunk driving arrests decreased last year across Mississippi, Columbus and Starkville proved to be the exceptions.
The Starkville Police Department arrested 430 people for driving under the influence in 2009, according to statistics released by SPD Chief David Lindley. More people were arrested for driving under the influence in Starkville in 2009 than in any other year in the history of the Starkville Police Department, according to the report. It marked the third straight year the department arrested more than 400 people for DUI, Lindley said, though he had no exact figures for 2007 or 2008.
"I think Starkville has become a more popular destination for socializing and that''s certainly one thing that''s had an effect," Lindley said of the increase.
The Starkville Police Department also hired a fourth full-time DUI enforcement officer to patrol city streets, which could account for the increase in DUI arrests, Lindley acknowledged. But the fourth full-time DUI officer only was hired because of the high number of alcohol-related offenses in the first place, he said.
"The increase in alcohol-related offenses has sparked the need for more DUI officers," Lindley said. "It''s more like one has an effect on the other. They both affect each other. We got another DUI enforcement officer because of the high number of alcohol-related offenses and now the number of DUIs is increasing because we have another DUI officer out there."
The Columbus Police Department arrested 165 people for DUI in 2009, Public Information Officer Terrie Songer said. By comparison, Columbus police only arrested 116 people for DUI in 2008.
So far this year, the CPD has arrested 36 people for driving under the influence.
Songer attributed the increase in DUI arrests last year to the hard work of the Columbus Police Department.
"In my personal opinion, I think it''s a better effort from the police," Songer said. "I think our officers are just being trained better on DUIs. These young officers are gung-ho. I think they''re out there really working hard to get these DUIs."
The number of people arrested by the Oktibbeha County Sheriff''s Department for driving under the influence has been on a steady decline in recent years, Chief Deputy George Carrithers said. In 2009, the OCSD arrested 265 people for DUI, compared to 285 DUI arrests in 2008 and 321 in 2007.
"I would probably credit that to us getting out and stepping up the DUI enforcement over the past few years," Carrithers said. "When you first start out, you have more DUI arrests, but as time goes on they start falling because people know you''re out there working."
The Sheriff''s Department also has maintained a visible presence at the only bar in the county, Cowbell''s Sports Grill, located in the Highlands Plantation community off Highway 182.
"We''ve been seeing a lot more designated drivers," Carrithers said. "They see (the Sheriff''s Department) out there more, they see us out on patrol, so they''re not driving as much. We still stop a lot of cars with drunk people in them, but they''re not driving, which is good. We''d rather them be riding drunk than driving drunk."
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Oktibbeha County Sheriff''s Department had arrested 70 people this year for driving under the influence. By this time last year, the Sheriff''s Department only had arrested 63 people for DUI, Carrithers said.
Attempts to get DUI statistics from the Lowndes County Sheriff''s Office and Mississippi Highway Patrol were unsuccessful.
Across the state, 32,099 people were arrested for DUI in 2009, with 2,145 of those people under age 21, according to statistics provided by the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. By comparison, 32,530 people were arrested for DUI in 2008, with 2,615 under age 21. In 2007, 24,851 people were arrested for DUI in Mississippi, with 2,139 under 21.
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.