Steamboat sees steady decline in DUI arrests

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A new report released by a state agency, as well as local DUI arrest statistics, illustrate a steady decrease in arrests locally as well as potential impacts from the legalization of marijuana.

“Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs continues to be a problem in rural Colorado as well as the metropolitan areas,” said Doug Conrad, captain for the local Colorado State Patrol Troop.

The first-ever report compiled by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice was completed in response to a lack of research and knowledge related to the impacts of people driving while high.

Marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2014, and the Colorado General Assembly mandated the report be done annually.

The first report looks at the 27,224 DUI arrests during 2016, and according to that research, 6.2 percent of those cases involved people who tested positive for having consumed cannabis.

In 2016, Routt County had 165 DUI arrests and a relatively low arrest rate of 6.54 people per thousand who live in Routt County. By comparison, Moffat, Grand, Eagle and Summit counties had an arrest rate of between 10.37 and 12.91 people per thousand.

Of the DUI arrests in Routt County, 74 were made by the Steamboat Springs Police Department.

Since 2008, there has been a steady decline in arrests made by Steamboat police.

DUI arrests in the city topped out in 2008 with 205, which is an arrest rate of about 17 people per thousand.

By 2011, the number of DUI arrests made by Steamboat police dropped to 129.

“It corresponds, quite frankly, with the recession,” Steamboat Police Chief Cory Christensen said. “Staffing dropped from a hiring perspective, so we suffer.”

Steamboat police have been hampered by vacant officer positions in recent years, and Christensen said that has hurt his department’s ability to actively seek out people who are breaking certain laws, such as driving under the influence.

Fully staffed, there would be 18 officers covering shifts for 24-7 coverage in the city. The department currently has 13 officers, which forces them to make certain choices.

“We focus less on proactive policing and more on just trying to figure out how to get the calls for service handled,” Christensen said. “Unless you have dedicated DUI resources, your DUI numbers are going to go down.”

At the same time, calls that take more of an officer’s time are becoming more prevalent.

“Our calls, like domestic violence and mental health situations, are up, so they (officers) have less time to look for drunk drivers,” Christensen said.

Christensen also attributed the drop in local DUI arrests to the free bus, shuttles and ride services like Lyft and Uber, which have begun operating in Steamboat in recent years.

“I think, recently, some of the recent decline can be attributed to Lyft and Uber,” Christensen said. “Their business model revolves around you not driving drunk. They really want to be a positive part of people getting home safely.”

Looking at demographics

Chief Christensen said the new report issued by the state could help law enforcement focus its public education efforts, and subsequent reports will help the local department identify trends.

The report also looks at who got arrested, Christensen said.

“We could pull some things from that,” Christensen said. “Who do we target? Who is getting arrested for what?”

Men made up 74.5 percent of the arrests in Colorado, and nearly 30 percent of the arrests were men in their 20s.

“The thing that popped out for me was the age group, and they’re mostly male,” Christensen said. “Maybe we should make sure we are talking to the young men about drinking and driving.”

Other notable findings from the report were that more than a third of those people arrested for DUI were repeat offenders.

More than 80 percent of all those arrested pleaded guilty.

About 10 percent of the cases were dismissed, and less than 1 percent went to trial with a not guilty verdict.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland.

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