Mesa County DUI arrests down slightly

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo (KKCO) -- DUI arrests are down in Mesa County, but that doesn't necessarily mean fewer people are drinking and driving.

It's an expensive mistake. From start to finish, a DUI will cost you roughly $10,000.

According to Colorado State Patrol, during certain evening hours, as many as one in ten drivers are impaired. The overall decrease in arrests doesn't mean there are fewer drunk drivers on the road; it means there are fewer law enforcement officers to catch them.

"We do have a lot of DUI drivers here," said Captain Ed Clark with the Colorado State Patrol.

Clark says Mesa County remains number two in the state per capita for DUI arrests.

Grants are now available to law enforcement to help fund DUI patrols.

"Our grant is year round. It does focus on the 100 days of heat during the summertime, because that's when most of our incidents occur, but we do enforcement year round," added Clark.

Sometimes it's difficult for law enforcement to catch drunk drivers when they get so many calls of fatigued drivers.

"We do try to follow up on as many reports as we can get to. I would say the majority of the time they're fatigued drivers that are tired; they are occasionally impaired drivers as well," said Clark.

The problem is law enforcement must use resources to follow up on reports which don't end up being drunk drivers.

"We're always looking for those DUI drivers, but it's difficult when you're chasing 911 calls," said Heather Benjamin, public information officer with the Mesa County Sheriff's Department.

From Jan. 1 to Oct. 18 of this year, the Mesa County Sheriff's Department made 91 DUI arrests versus 72 arrests for the same time period last year.

"For our statistics, it has to do with money being available for overtime; typically overtime for DUI patrol is paid through grants from the state," said Benjamin.

All law enforcement look for drunk drivers, but officials say they'll catch the most by setting up checkpoints and conducting saturation patrols.

"If our DUI numbers are down, typically we attribute that to having less overtime money to pay for deputies on the road, specifically targeting DUI drivers," said Benjamin.

The Grand Junction Police Department made 371 DUI arrests last year, versus 313 so far this year, but those numbers could change by year's end.

"With the Halloween season, we know there's going to be a lot of parties, and we just want them to be responsible and be safe; so we do have extra officers out that will be patrolling for drinking and driving," said Kate Porras, public information officer with the Grand Junction Police Department.

Agencies were out in full force Wednesday night patrolling for drunk drivers. The Mesa County DUI Task Force conducts at least one DUI checkpoint a month.

The CSP "Heat is On" campaign runs every Memorial Day through Labor Day. Police say their next big campaign will be during the Thanksgiving holiday season.

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