Over the last few years, arrests stemming from motorists driving under the influence have taken a dip throughout Harvey County. In 2014, there were 168 such arrests reported by the combined county law enforcement agencies. That number dipped to 153 in 2015 and 116 this past year — the lowest total in the last decade.
Members of the justice system pointed to numerous factors attributing to that decline, including the social stigma that comes with such arrests and a populous more informed of the risks through campaigns like "You drink. You drive. You lose."
"Using those tools that we've used in the past, as far as the education, I think we're definitely making strides to get people to not get behind the wheel when under the influence," said Newton Deputy Chief Craig Dunlavy.
While a wealth of information may be helping keep drunk drivers off the road, the punishment resulting from that behavior may be contributing to the drop in DUIs as well – as a recent study by WalletHub found that Kansas ranks the fourth strictest in the country against that type of crime based on 15 different metrics.
Among those metrics included in the study, Kansas ranks in the top 10 (strictest) for minimum jail time on both first and second offense, how long old DUIs factor into penalties, minimum fines for first and second offense and average insurance rate increases after a DUI. Of those factors, the highest ranking (third) was based off minimum jail time for second offense — carrying a sentence of at least 90 days.
"I think the goal is to get drunk drivers off the streets and if you have those penalties that the public is aware about, that will hopefully be in the back of their minds," said Newton city prosecutor Matt Mullen.
Mullen stated that the city adopted the standard traffic ordinance, meaning city rules and regulations regarding DUIs mirror those of the state — with a minimum fine of $750 and two days in jail on first offense (though jail time can be waived or reduced through community service or drug/alcohol education).
Knowing how vigilant the NPD is in regards to DUIs, Mullen sees the state's strict laws as — at the least — a possible factor in seeing a decrease in such cases recently, stating he perceives that drop as more people staying off the roads rather than anyone going undetected by local police.
Harvey County Sheriff Chad Gay also views those penalties as a good enforcer and a likely factor in the recent decline of DUI arrests around the county — particularly as harsh as losing the ability to drive can be to people's livelihoods.
"To me, the biggest thing that would deter that is the chance that you would lose your driver's license for a year," Gay said. "Those types of things, I hope, make people think twice about it."
Upon first offense, there is a mandatory license suspension for 30 days with a restricted license period (with limits on where you can drive to and from) of 330 days following that.
Campaigns like "You drink. You drive. You lose," which launched Thursday, incentivize local law enforcement agencies. That commitment to monitoring a certain type of illegal activity for a dedicated period of time brings with it the opportunity for grant funds. Newton continues to participate and Gay noted he is looking to get the sheriff's office involved as well.
Enforcement of DUIs will continue by local law enforcement, but all involved noted the penalties put in place throughout the state are an added benefit to double down on discouraging that behavior.
"It's good to have those policies in place in the state of Kansas to deter that," Mullen said, "and hopefully keep those drivers off the road."