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NYS Exposed: Dangerous DWI drop -- How did this happen?

May 01, 2017 11:31 PM

Two out of every three people are likely to get in a crash caused by a drunk driver in their lifetime. That's according to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. That's why what happened with drunk driving arrests in our community is important to your family's safety.

In 2016, the number of drunk driving arrests by the Monroe County Sheriff's Office dropped 30 percent.

It came down to an issue over money, benefits and a union contract and because of it, our safety was affected and that upsets families who live with the pain of drunk driving today. 

Chris Humphrey, son killed by drunk driver: It was a typical fall day.

It was 1984. Chris Humphrey's son Shawn Rockow was 13 years old. An elderly neighbor at the Pines of Perinton asked him to go to the store in Fairport. Shawn went with a group of friends and they were riding their bikes. Shawn was the last rider to cross Whitney Road and the drunk driver came out of nowhere.

Chris Humphrey: Shawn hit the passenger side of the car. Did a lot of damage to the car and did a lot of damage to him.

Shawn died at the scene. His mother Chris started the Rochester chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and she's still fighting. So I showed her the number of drunk driving arrests made by the Monroe County Sheriff's Office in 2016.

Chris Humphrey: I think that sucks. Only because that means there's all these offenders out there and who's protecting us?

Here is what I showed her: In 2013, 2014 and 2015, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office arrested an average of 530 drunk drivers. But in 2016, the number dropped 30 percent, down to 389.

Here's what happened: Last summer, the contract with Monroe County Sheriff Road Patrol deputies was set to change, forcing retirees to pay 50 percent of their health benefits. The union and sheriff's office couldn't agree on a deal to change that. So by the August 1, 2016 deadline, 41 deputies retired. To cover basic patrols, the sheriff disbanded his DWI enforcement unit and after that the number of drunk driving arrests started going down.

Brean: Why did the Sheriff's office arrest 158 fewer drunk drivers in 2016? 

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Sheriff Patrick O'Flynn: Well hopefully it's an educational thing and people are learning and catching on.

Sheriff Patrick O'Flynn means fewer people are driving drunk. But seven local police departments increased the number of DWI arrests last year. 

Here is the list of DWI arrests in 2015 and 1016 for each local police department

Again, the Sheriff's Office went down 30 percent.

Brean: And that coincides with the retirement of 41 deputies. 

Sheriff O'Flynn: Oh, there's a good potential that that had some influence on it.

Brean: So there is a correlation between what happened with the significant retirement and a decrease in the number of drunk driving arrests.
Sheriff O'Flynn: I don't know if it's a direct correlation to those exact numbers however I would assume it would have had an impact because we had fewer deputies doing specifically the DWI enforcement.
Brean: I guess when I look at the numbers, what I see is a significant decrease in the number of drunk driving arrests in the Sheriff's Office and to me that goes to public safety. 

Sheriff O'Flynn: Well it goes to public safety in that there was a reduction in the number. However, as I said, I'm hoping that as part of the safety, has been the training, the education, our getting into the schools, our Dare program.

"With all the drug use and the violence we have in our city, it's sad to think that we're just saying to these drunk drivers your chances of getting caught is a lot less," Chris Humphrey said.

Five other police departments arrested fewer drunks

Five other local police departments arrested fewer drunk drivers last year. Most of them only slightly.  Irondequoit Police Department's drop was 42 percent. IPD told me that's because they lost ten officers in 2016 to retirement, injury and the Army Reserves. IPD says it did not have anything to do with a union contract or benefits.

The Monroe County Sheriff's Office says all 41 positions are filled however some of those new deputies are still in training. The sheriff's office says the DWI enforcement unit is back up and working again.

We showed the arrest numbers to local DWI attorney Ed Fiandach. Here is his reaction:

Credits

Berkeley Brean

Copyright 2017 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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