Washington State Patrol DUI arrests have increased in King County and other regions.
On Thanksgiving Day, KOMO News reported that year-to-date King County DUI arrests had already increased 10% over 2016. Washington State Patrol troopers arrested 2,425 drivers so far this year, compared to 2,201 arrests in 2016.
Those numbers don't even include the remainder of Thanksgiving weekend, which typically sees high numbers of DUI arrests state-wide.
What's Behind the Increase in Washington DUI Arrests?
Trooper Mallory Reynolds told KOMO news that increased State Patrol staffing might be behind the higher number of DUI arrests.
Earlier this year, KING 5 News reported that there had been an overall decrease in Washington DUI arrests and a corresponding increase in DUI-related deaths in recent years. The Washington State Patrol said that the department had about 130 trooper vacancies. State Patrol Chief John Batiste cited poor pay as one reason the department was struggling to fill vacancies.
Batiste also noted that increased drugged driving had created additional arrest processing requirements for troopers. He said drugged driving arrests can take up to five hours for a trooper to process, which meant troopers were spending less time out on the road trying to stop impaired drivers.
KING 5 News noted that the state was taking steps to address the staffing shortage. The Washington state legislature approved a trooper pay raise. And the law enforcement training academy graduated its largest class, sending 50 new troopers out onto the roads.
The State Patrol has also been experimenting with ways to decrease the amount of time it takes to process a DUI arrest. For example, the State Patrol implemented a pilot program with the Lakewood Police to help police officers avoid time-consuming trips to the hospital for blood testing purposes. Lakewood police officers received medical training that allowed them to draw suspects' blood, rather than taking a suspect to the hospital for a blood test.
Expect Increased DUI Patrols Through the New Year
The holiday season typically brings an increased emphasis on impaired driving prevention. State and local police organizations are planning increased patrols through the holiday season to combat the expected spike in impaired driving.
For example, the State Patrol deployed a "Holiday Emphasis Squad" in Southwest Washington starting the day before Thanksgiving. Ten additional troopers are assigned to Clark, Cowlitz, and Lewis counties.
The troopers will be deployed until January 3, 2018. The Squad focuses on preventing driving behaviors that the State Patrol says are likely to cause serious injuries and fatalities, including:
- Impaired driving
- Aggressive driving
- Unrestrained occupants
Depending on the circumstances, a Washington DUI may be a misdemeanor or a felony. Most DUIs are charged as gross misdemeanors. Misdemeanor DUI penalties increase if the defendant has a high blood-alcohol concentration, refuses a sobriety test, or has previous DUI convictions in the last seven years.
If a person has previously been convicted of vehicular assault or homicide while driving intoxicated or other serious charges, they may be charged with a felony in Washington. Felony DUI carries a potential penalty of up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.