Figures released by police agencies in Centre County show the number of DUI arrests are at a 10-year low, with a dramatic decrease occurring over the past half decade.
Among the six municipal police departments and two state police barracks in the county, 675 DUI arrests were made last year, a drop of 52 arrests from 2013. The figure has dropped gradually in Centre County by 35 percent since 2010, when police made 1,045 DUI arrests, the highest number during the 10-year time frame.
“Clearly, efforts of law enforcement, and education, have had a dramatic impact on this issue, as has our therapeutic approach for repeat offenders,” said Judge Bradley P. Lunsford, who oversees the county DUI court, a program designed to curb DUI recidivism.
The court began in 2010 and is a voluntary program for third-time DUI offenders. Most people arrested for DUI are social drinkers who get the message after the first arrest and don’t drink and drive again, Lunsford said.
Repeat offenders are generally addicted to alcohol or drugs, he said, and the court mandates treatment options after a period of incarceration or in-home detention, like classes and counseling, to help the person stay sober.
Outside of court, local police deserve a great deal of credit for the drop in the number of DUI arrests, Lunsford said.
“Knowing that they are committed to enforcement convinces many to refrain from driving after imbibing,” Lunsford said.
Ferguson Township police Sgt. Ryan Hendrick, coordinator of the Centre County Alcohol Task Force, said the decrease can be attributed to a combination of education, awareness and prevention.
Officers involved in the task force offer classes about the dangers and risks associated with impaired driving, Hendrick said. The task force uses other means, like billboards, the media and one-on-one interaction with the public, to raise awareness of the issue, he said.
Learning also extends to the officers involved, Hendrick said. Police undergo field sobriety training that helps them detect the influence of alcohol on drivers, and some officers get further training on the signs of drug impairment, he said.
Officers and troopers use the skills they learn for the prevention portion, Hendrick said, which is the actual enforcement of DUI laws. The task force is out during “strategic days,” like Penn State home football games and State Patty’s Day, and the sole assignment of officers those days is to look for impaired drivers. That same training is used every night to enforce DUI laws, he said.
There is potential for the numbers to drop even further, Hendrick said.
“As long as the community continues to work with law enforcement, I can see those numbers getting lower,” he said.