Police are puzzled to explain a steady, four-year decline in people arrested on suspicion of drunken driving in McHenry County.
From Crystal Lake to Bull Valley, officials point to economic factors that affect people’s willingness to dine and drink out, and constraints on their own patrol resources as possible reasons. They also are seeing more residents use designated drivers, the result of public awareness campaigns about the hazards of driving under the influence and stiff DUI penalties.
The trend is clear. DUI arrests in the county and across the state are steadily declining. From 2009 to 2012, the county saw DUI arrests decline by 207, data from the McHenry County Circuit Clerk’s Office show.
“It’s like any drug. It’s cyclical. It’s a trend, and we look at everything to reduce DUI drivers on the streets through enforcement and education,” McHenry County Undersheriff Andrew Zinke said. “For now, it looks like it’s making a difference.”
The county’s 32 arresting agencies nabbed 1,407 drivers for DUI in 2009, compared with the 1,200 such arrests in 2012. The top arresting agencies all are larger departments, including the sheriff’s office (822 arrests), Crystal Lake police (557) and Lake in the Hills police (488).
The sheriff’s office has led the county in DUI arrests over the past four years, but has seen a sharp decline since 2009, when officers arrested 302 people for DUI. In 2012, the sheriff’s officers arrested 155 people.
Zinke said people are becoming smarter about drinking and driving, especially because technology makes it easier to find a designated driver.
He said he also is aware that the sheriff’s 70 patrol officers are inundated with other calls and paperwork that detract from time patrolling streets.
On a given shift, the sheriff’s office has seven to 14 officers on patrol.
“It takes time to be patrolling the streets. If they are busy on calls, writing reports, it takes away the time they have to enforce DUI arrests,” Zinke said. “There’s a whole different set of factors that contribute to it.”
Agencies from all of Illinois’ 102 counties made about 6,200 fewer arrests in 2010 than in 2008, according to the latest figures from the secretary of state.
Of Chicago’s five collar counties, DuPage County led with 4,248 arrests in 2010. McHenry County was last with 1,277 arrests. The state recorded 41,900 DUI arrests that year.
Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, a statewide advocacy group, also is aware that statewide DUI arrests are declining and attributes the trend to more people drinking responsibly.
The group recognizes individual counties and municipalities every year for DUI arrests, taking into account how many officers each department has.
In 2011, AAIM ranked Cook County No. 1 in arrests with 475. The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office ranked 10th.
“It’s still a problem. People are still drinking and driving,” AAIM Executive Director Rita Kreslin said. “But again, I like to think the decline is because people are getting smarter.”
The Crystal Lake Police Department has partnered with AAIM for years to bring awareness to drunken driving. Like neighboring agencies, the department also used more than $10,000 in state grants last year to increase patrols around holidays.
Those special efforts, and officers knowing where to patrol for drunken drivers, could explain why Crystal Lake was the only top-five arresting agency in the county to see an increase in DUI arrests in the past two years.
The department arrested 137 people in 2012 – 20 more than in 2011.
“For our rates to go up at the same time as others are going down, I think that’s a testament to our guys doing their job,” Patrol Cmdr. Dan Dziewior said.
Only seven of the 32 local agencies saw an uptick in DUI arrests during the past two years. The small department of Bull Valley, east of Woodstock, was the most productive.
Known better for catching speeders, Bull Valley’s 11 patrol officers arrested 11 people for DUI from 2009 to 2011. Last year, the department made 86 DUI arrests, Police Chief Rich Vance said.
Vance, who became the full-time chief a year ago, said the department wasn’t devoting any time to DUI enforcement until he changed priorities.
“We still have a problem with people speeding in the village, but for the longest time, that was the only focus,” Vance said. “ We just changed our focus. ... I want to do what’s right, and I want to make people safe out there.”