DWI arrests jump 12 percent in Cape

Friday, September 26, 2003

A warning is being issued to Cape Girardeau drivers this weekend: If you drink and drive, be prepared to join a long list of arrests.

Cape Girardeau police will conduct sobriety checkpoints at various parts of the city, said traffic supervisor Sgt. Jack Wimp. The locations are being kept secret to heighten the "element of surprise," he said.

"If people know we're out there, but they don't know where exactly, they may be motivated to stay home if they're going to drink or to not drink at all when they go out," Wimp said.

So far this year, Cape Girardeau police have arrested 191 people for driving while intoxicated -- up 12 percent from this point last year -- and the department appears to be on target to exceed last year's total of 234, Wimp said. That was the city's highest total in at least six years.

Police say that more than 40 percent of fatal crashes involve alcohol and that the chance of being involved in an alcohol-related crash increases on weekend nights. This weekend doesn't include a holiday, which is traditionally when law enforcement agencies hold sobriety checkpoints, but police still feel it will be productive.

"We've been trying to get everyone together for one for a while now," Wimp said. "But with the fair and people going on vacation, there's been a number of things going on that kept us from it until now."

The checkpoints are funded by a $2,000 grant from the Missouri Division of Highway Safety, Wimp said. The money pays for a supervisor and about eight other officers' participation. The department conducts four or more such operations a year.

A productive checkpoint can raise arrest totals significantly in just one night's work. For instance, a joint operation with the Missouri State Highway Patrol about five years ago netted 23 arrests at Morgan Oak Street, patrol officials said.

But checkpoints aren't the only reason DWI arrests are up in Cape Girardeau, Wimp said.

A $10,000 grant this year from the Division of Highway Safety enables the city to pay for two officers to focus on finding drunken drivers every Friday and Saturday night. About three years ago, a budget crunch forced the city down to just one officer for the patrols, and subsequently, DWI arrests fell to as low as 155 in 2000. But in 2002, the department returned to using two officers and arrests jumped back up to 234.

67 in Jackson

So far this year, Jackson has netted 67 DWI arrests, which suggests an upward trend for the city, Lt. Christopher Mouser said.

Jackson police conducted their first checkpoint in about three years in August through a joint operation with the Missouri Highway Patrol along a portion of East Jackson Boulevard, said Jackson Lt. Rodney Barnes.

The previous checkpoint was a joint operation with the patrol and Cape Girardeau police at the Interstate 55-U.S. 61 interchange. Jackson police did not have records concerning arrest totals from the checkpoints. Mouser explained the city played a secondary role to the patrol in operating the checkpoints.

"Checkpoints require a lot of coordination and manpower," Barnes said. "And with a department of our size, we usually work with another agency to conduct one."


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