Fatal car crashes involving alcohol or drugs have increased steadily in Oklahoma City at the same time drunken driving arrests have dropped significantly.
The number of arrests for driving while intoxicated in Oklahoma City dropped from 3,459 in 2001 to 1,912 in 2011, according to department reports. Fatal accidents involving drunk or drugged drivers increased from 11 in 2004 — the earliest figures available — to 21 in 2011.
Police department spokesmen said several factors may contribute to that trend, but that personnel shortages at the department are affecting all aspects of proactive law enforcement, including investigating drivers suspected of being under the influence.
“It makes it harder to investigate cases, whether they're burglary cases or DUI cases — it just makes it hard to do everything,” Master Sgt. Gary Knight said.
The department stopped hosting recruiting academies from 2009-2011 and currently is about 100 shy of the 1,058 roster spots authorized by the city.
And that roster itself has only increased by a couple dozen officers over the last 25 years despite a more than 30 percent increase in city population, Capt. Dexter Nelson, another department spokesman, said.
Nelson said the officer shortages are because the city council won't authorize a budget that will pay for new recruits.
“It's frustrating to hear people say they want to be tough on crime, but yet we get no assistance,” he said.
Alcohol-related fatalities increased statewide from 149 in 2001 to 220 last year.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol citations for alcohol or drugs sank from 11,671 to 8,487 during the same 10 years, according to the safety office's annual “Crash Facts” report. Those figures, however, reflect citations issued beyond drinking and driving, such as possession of alcohol by minors or the transporting of an open container. There is no statewide data on arrests for driving while intoxicated.
The patrol made about 5,731 actual impaired driving arrests last year, said Garry Thomas, director of the safety office.
Drinking and driving laws in Oklahoma are on par with most other states in the nation, according to research compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In addition to meeting the national standard of a 0.08 blood alcohol content limit for drinking and driving, Oklahoma meets six of 11 deterrence measures recommended by the administration: