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Posted on Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Less enforcement, fewer arrests: Washtenaw County police report dramatic decreases in drunken driving arrests since 2006

By Kyle Feldscher

Statewide series on The Disappearing DUI: MLive finds wide disparities in drunk driving arrests; see how your police rank

Drunken driving arrests in Washtenaw County dipped between 2006 and 2011, with some police agencies seeing the numbers cut in half, statistics show.


Drunk driving arrests from Washtenaw County police agencies decreased between 2006 and 2011.

Photo illustration by MLive Media Group

The lack of new cases put Washtenaw County district courts — the 15th, 14A and 14B — at the bottom of the state rankings for drunken driving court cases per capita. The 15th District Court — representing Ann Arbor — and 14B District Court — representing Ypsilanti Township — had about one drunken driving arrest for every 1,000 people who are of driving age, according to an MLive Media Group analysis.

Those courts ranked 128th (14A), 134th (15) and 135th (14B) among 136 district courts in the state.

The decreasing number of cases come just as Michigan’s drunken driving laws are getting tougher on those convicted.

New penalties for so-called “super drunk” drivers — people who are pulled over while driving with a blood alcohol level above 0.17 — went into effect in October 2010. Drivers who are convicted of driving with a blood alcohol level above that limit face up to 180 days in jail, a 45-day suspension of their driver’s license, 320 days of restricted driving, between $200 and $700 in fines and one year’s worth of alcohol treatment.

Super drunk drivers must have a ignition interlock device — a device that users breathe into to determine if they’ve been drinking — on their car for the entire restricted driving period.

The traditional penalties for drunken driving are a maximum of 30 days in jail, a 30-day driver’s license suspension, 150 days of restricted driving and $100 to $500 in fines.

The issue for the police departments that send offenders to those courts is simple: There are just fewer officers on the road that can deal with drunken drivers than there were in years past.

Less dedicated enforcement means fewer arrests

In Ann Arbor, there were 214 drunken driving arrests in 2006, according to Michigan State Police statistics. The number of arrests dropped each year after that, bottoming out at 98 in 2010 before going back up to 101 in 2011, stats show. In that same year, Ann Arbor ranked 473rd out of 520 on drunken driving arrests per officer, registering 0.86 arrests for each of the 117 full-time officers employed that year.

Ann Arbor Deputy Chief Greg Bazick said Wednesday part of the explanation for the decreasing numbers is the lack of a dedicated drunken driving enforcement unit in the department. In years past, Ann Arbor police had uniformed officers who focused on finding drunken drivers, but crime response units in recent years have focused on home invasions and sexual assaults.

“As staffing has changed over time, we don’t have units dedicated to drunken driving enforcement as in years gone by,” he said, adding that a shrinking police force is one part of the equation.

Since 2007, Ann Arbor police have seen the force go from 150 sworn officers to 119, according to the latest city budget. With fewer people to deploy and other crimes grabbing the attention of city residents, Bazick said crime response units — uniformed officers that work with detectives to specifically solve rashes of break-ins or sexual assaults like the city saw in the summer of 2011 — for drunken driving have not been formed.

He said Ann Arbor police take drunken drivers seriously and individual officers still focus on finding intoxicated motorists on their own. However, dispatches coming from 911 calls take precedent.

“Even though there’s no dedicated unit, that doesn’t mean you don’t have officers that take the initiative to do targeted enforcement if they’re not tied up on other calls,” Bazick said. “There’s nothing to say they aren’t actively looking for drunk drivers. We’re not giving up efforts to enforce drunk drivers, there’s just no specific drunk driving unit.”

It’s a similar story in Pittsfield Township, where drunken driving arrests went from 178 in 2006 to 76 in 2010, jumping back up to 106 in 2011.

Public Safety Director Matt Harshberger said the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning provided grants in earlier years to increase the number of details specifically targeted at finding drunken drivers. The department would post the schedule for the details for volunteers to fill and if all the spots were not filled, officers would be ordered to go on those details, he said.

As time went on, the department stopped ordering officers to take those details and they became volunteer only. Harshberger said that wasn’t a staffing issue, but a decision to make sure the officers on those details wanted to be there. He believed that would make them more proactive in finding offenders.

“We take them seriously, obviously. Officers are out on patrols in business and residential areas looking for violations,” he said. “We deem it to be serious; officers are very conscious about arresting those individuals and getting them off the street.”

Drunken driving arrests look like they’re going to be near the same level in Pittsfield Township in 2012, Harshberger said. There have been 77 drunken drivers arrested in 2012, and Harshberger said a ball park number of about 100 at the end of the year is expected.

Another large decrease was seen from the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, which went from 190 drunken driving arrests in 2006 to 100 in 2011. Instead of decreasing in a linear fashion, the sheriff’s office reported making 238 arrests in 2008 before dropping down to 125 arrests a year later, state police data show.

It's a trend that sheriff's officials have recognized as well, said Dieter Herren, police services commander for the sheriff's office. Herren said the office will refocus attention on drunken driving and make enforcement a higher priority for deputies.

"We are reinforcing the significance of OWI enforcement with our staff. We are revisiting internal efforts to support our staff in this area," Herren said in a statement. "Moving forward, we will continue to monitor and assess our efforts in OWI enforcement."

More consistent enforcement

Some other departments have been more consistent with enforcement since 2006.

For example, the University of Michigan Department of Public Safety had 52 drunken driving arrests in 2006 and 45 in 2011.

Ypsilanti police arrested 68 drunken drivers in 2006 and 47 in 2011, but have averaged about 62 drunken driving arrests each year during that time frame.

Milan police arrested 22 drunken drivers in 2006 and the exact same number in 2011.

Washtenaw County’s drunkest driver in 2012

In Chelsea, police arrested 21 drunken drivers in 2006 and 18 in 2011, but police there have the distinction of arresting the eighth alleged drunkest driver in the state of Michigan so far in 2012.

Chief Ed Toth said police responded at 8:30 p.m. May 2 to the area near the 14A-3 District Court in downtown Chelsea after being notified of an erratic driver. When officers approached the car, they found a 32-year-old Ann Arbor man who was allegedly so drunk they had to call an ambulance.

Rick Haas, who has been charged in the case, took a preliminary breath test and registered a 0.40 blood alcohol level, a full five times the legal limit of 0.08, Toth said. Haas was so drunk he couldn’t go through the motions of doing field sobriety tests, according to police.

“We’re lucky he didn’t hurt anybody,” Toth said.

Chelsea police have a policy of calling medical personnel whenever they encounter a drunken driver above a 0.35 blood alcohol level, which doesn’t happen very often.

Toth said he was surprised Haas could even function with that much booze in his system, let alone actually drive. He said thanked the people who called in the report.

“I appreciate the citizens reporting this so we could get him off the road,” he said.

Haas' case is going through the court system and he's been charged with operating with a blood alcohol level above 0.17 or more and operating while intoxicated. He was charged in the case on July 10 and was arraigned on Aug. 6. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Alternative reasons for a decrease

In Saline, police arrested 80 drunken drivers in 2006 but that number was more than halved by 2011 with 39 arrests. Detective Don Lupi said there were a few reasons outside of staffing that he believed that number went down.

Lupi said pushes to educate drivers on the dangers of driving drunk has caused more people to put peer pressure on their friends.

“Twenty years ago, friends may not have made such a big deal about other friends driving after drinking alcohol,” he said. “Now, pressure is being put on peers not to allow other peers to drive after drinking alcohol.”

Lupi said police in Saline have a heavy presence in the downtown area where most drunken drivers would be found. That reputation has spread and Lupi said he’s heard people will purposely avoid going through downtown Saline because they know patrol officers are out in force, which could contribute to the decrease.

But, Lupi echoed the points of Bazick and Harshberger when he said money that used to be allocated for targeted drunk driving enforcement is now going elsewhere.

In 2006, Saline police would participate in every state-funded drunken driving detail. That’s no longer the case.

“Now, because of general budget reasons, there is not as many available officers to participate in those programs,” he said. “That’s bigger than Saline, that’s the economy in general.”

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.


Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Sep 12, 2012 : 4:25 p.m.

The Mayor is still comfortable with the police cuts I'm guessing? "Ann Arbor Deputy Chief Greg Bazick said Wednesday part of the explanation for the decreasing numbers is the lack of a dedicated drunken driving enforcement unit in the department. In years past, Ann Arbor police had uniformed officers who focused on finding drunken drivers, but crime response units in recent years have focused on home invasions and sexual assaults. "As staffing has changed over time, we don't have units dedicated to drunken driving enforcement as in years gone by," he said, adding that a shrinking police force is one part of the equation."

John Seychel

Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 1:02 a.m.

LOL, I said from the start, that because of the new smoking laws, there will be a huge decrease in drunk driving arrests. it's not just from the laws and such. It's really good that arrests are fewer but does that really mean there are less drunks on the road? I don't know for sure, but I do know that there are a lot of drunks that stay home and drink, and they have more money to drink with because they are not paying the high cost of a bar tab.


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 8:45 p.m.

Graduate from college with tens of thousands in debt plus a drunk driving charge on your record.........priceless. Throw these kids in jail if that's what it takes to wake them up but don't saddle them with something that has no staute of limitations so if they screw up again later in life the penalties could cost them their job or freedom. A drunk driving conviction when your young and stupid is a lifetime offense. Look it up if you don't believe me. I've never had one but know a number of young kids who have and there lives are really screwed up by their youthful indiscretion. And this law was passed while our benevolant and tolerant Governor Granholm was in office.


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 8:41 p.m.

MRunner73:"There is a contradiction in fewer law enforcement equalling few arrests." Maybe yes, maybe no. For example, witness what happens when there are not enough police officers to respond to crime: people stop calling police. "You heard gun shots? Why didn't you call police? " "We did. There was no response" After this happens several times, folks stop calling police. Fewer crimes reported = lower crime rate? Looks that way on paper. Feels different in real life.

Paul Epstein

Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 8:09 p.m.

Well, with the necessity of having one patrol car at all times watching Packard and Arch to make sure no one goes straight across Packard through that most idiotic right turn only sign, that takes one vehicle away right there. And not to forget all the marijuana busts of course.


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 6:35 p.m.

Excellent job of collecting statistics; not a great job of interpretation. Ann Arbor Factor #1: Students can walk from the tavern to their dorm/apt. Ann Arbor Factor #2: Citizens are smarter than East Lansing citizens. Highly educated population base knows it is dumb to drink and drive and they apply the knowledge.


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 3:23 p.m.

There is a contradiction in fewer llaw enforcement equalling few arrests. Seems to be the case in all of the cities and areas mentioned in this news piece. My take is that perhaps the folks in their 30s, and moreso in their 40s and 50s and 60s are more educated on the consequences on being caught with a DUI or DWI. It could or will mean a loss of job. My employer would likely terminate me if I get a DUI. It is something I take very seriously and responsibly.


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 7:38 p.m.

@BB- Correction: Almost all Baby Boomers are over 50, but not ALL. 1964 is the last year of the Baby Boomer so we have a little time left before were "over 50".

Basic Bob

Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 3:48 p.m.

Risky behavior such as driving drunk decreases with age. You see the same trends in illegal drug use, sexually transmitted diseases, and skateboarding injuries. Baby boomers are all over 50 now.


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.

"See, I told you cutting the police budget would lower the crime rate!" -Mayor McBicycle


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

I'd admire to see some recent Ann Arbor and Washtenaw stats on the average fine and/or sentence imposed for the various levels of drinking infraction, and also on the incidence of plea-downs accepted for these cases. Thanks to whoever can help!


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 8:43 p.m.

@ Basic: I admit to my silly obsession with facts and even actual numbers. I don't see where I called anything a "problem."

Basic Bob

Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 3:52 p.m.

And if they go to treatment and abide by the law instead of serving a lengthy prison sentence you have a problem with that. Stiff sentences without options do not serve as a deterrent.


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 1:35 p.m.

What I'm interested in is whether the number of drunk driving related accidents has gone up. You would think that with less enforcement the number of accidents would increase. If the number of accidents hasn't increased, then it is good we aren't wasting taxpayers dollars on "increased enforcement" for no reason. Maybe it is time to rethink what it means to be a drunk driver. I know after one beer (which could put me in jail if caught while driving) I am no more at risk of getting into an accident than if I was tired, on meds, had kids in the car, eating, texting... etc.


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 2 p.m.

It's not about "one beer" it's about your intoxication level, which is why we use BAC. My uncle could have a BAC over .3 and he could walk a straight line.....I still wouldn't want him driving a vehicle though....


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 1:51 p.m.

What you really want to know are the number of accidents involving a DRIVER with a BAC over the legal limit. Not some bogus "alcohol related" stat.


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 1:33 p.m.

Kyle, Please can you fill in the holes to this story. I appreciate the angle you are driving towards, less enforcement means the drunk drivers in our area are getting away scott free. However, that issue could be directly addressed had you simply looked up the numbers on how many accidents involving drunk drivers occured in the same time period you are discussing in your article. A 5 second google search found me the following article/link One would assume that if there are still the same numbers of drunk drivers on the road, that the same number of drunk driving related accidents would occur. Specialized drunk enforcement or not, drunks will cause accidents if they are driving drunk. If there are perhaps less drunk drivers on the road, that is an alternate hypothesis for why the number of arrests are down, in conjunction with less enforcement. I quickly looked at the state wide numbers from the above link and it seems like fatalities and accidents have decreased state wide. Admitedly, not all of the numbers decreased, but fatalities in particularly seem to have decreased in the time period the above link has infomation on. My request, could you add information from the state numbers that shows the complete list of accidents and compare those accident numbers to the number of tickets/arrests doled out in our area. I think it would help to tell the complete story. Thanks.

Richard Carter

Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 6:26 p.m.

I'm a bit late to the party, but what might help is the *ratio* of fatalities where alcohol was involved over the total number of fatalities. Safer cars, unless the safety features somehow make it especially safer for drunk drivers (unlikely) should make both numbers go down about evenly and make the statistics better. Similarly to this, I was reading that homicides are down, in part, due to better emergency medicine. What used to be homicides are now just critical injuries, more often with lifetime impacts.

Kyle Feldscher

Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 3:30 p.m.

mibrokerguy: The general sense that I got from police is that they have mostly been unable to catch as many drunk drivers as in the past due to staffing decreases and lack of specialized, targeted details. I don't think that police believe there are significantly less drunken drivers on the road than there were in 2006, although some do believe that increased education and awareness has played a smaller role in the decrease. I'll look into the statewide numbers for you and would encourage you to continue to read our statewide coverage of this issue at, where there will be more stories about this issue throughout the week.


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 3:27 p.m.

Know what less fatalities means? That fewer people are being killed. Beyond that you have no idea what the cause is. It's as likely to be caused by safer cars as anything else.


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 1:58 p.m.

Less fatalities don't mean less people are driving drunk. It DOES however mean that drunk people are not causing accidents as much. It's possible this is because people are driving drunk less....but it could also be that people are driving better while drunk.


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.

Here are the numbers from the link for those of you that the link may not work for: 2006 total fatalities in Michigan where at least one driver had BAC of 0.01% or above: 398. 2008 total fatalities in Michigan where at least one driver had BAC of 0.01% or above: 331. Roughly a 20% decrease, unfortunately more recent information is not available on that site. If you look at total accidents since 1995 and compare those numbers to 2008, accidents and fatalities have all seemed to drop. Again, my question is, are people driving drunk less or just getting caught less. I think the actual accident numbers (which do not depend upon enforcement I would argue) seem to start to point towards people are driving drunk less in Michigan than they used to.

Rugeirn Drienborough

Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 1:31 p.m.

It sure makes a mockery of all those TV ads, doesn't it? "Drive drunk - get a DUI - uh, if you happen to run into a cop who isn't doing something else, which is pretty unlikely."


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 12:52 p.m.

Hey folks, read the MLive article and you'll see that it's not that drunk driving is down but enforcement is down mainly due to reduced police personnel.


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 12:10 p.m.

Idea 1: Less enforcement = fewer tickets and arrests. Ok, makes sense. Idea 2: Fewer tickets and arrests = a drop in crime rate. What? Idea 2 is typical local government speak to justify and defend gutting of police services. In this argument, idea 2 is divorced from statement 1. The product is false sense of security. Typically, nobody cares about lack of public safety response until it is needed. Others believe that strong pubic safety is important, and should be funded over folly projects. Priorities!


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 12:08 p.m.

I would like to see how the arrest numbers stack up to the "incident" numbers. Are people driving drunk less.....or are the cops just catching less drunks?


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 3:25 p.m.

Good point but I for one, do not ever want to find out if caught behind the wheel after a drink or two, too many.

Homeland Conspiracy

Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 12:03 p.m.

Great to hear...but Texting while driving is the new drunk driving


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 11:54 a.m.

What about the cops that are camoflaged the color of the buildings and shrubbery? I thought from those commercials they were supposed to be everywhere.


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 10:16 a.m.

It's good news that the number of drunk drivers is decreasing


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 6:13 p.m.

The statistic we don't have is the number of accidents involving drunk drivers. If arrests are down only due to reduced manpower and the number of drunks is the same or increasing there should be an increase in accidents.


Mon, Sep 10, 2012 : 12:08 p.m.

You sure about that?