July 07, 2008
Appleton Post Crescent: Crimes with ties to alcohol burden police, fill courts
Posted by Gary Storck
Monday, July 7, 2007
Appleton's Post Crescent continues their series on Wisconsin's alcohol culture with this eye-opening article on the costs to society from overconsumption of alcohol.
Crimes with ties to alcohol burden police, fill courts click here
Drunken driving cited most often for impact on criminal justice system
Source: Appleton Post-Crescent
July 7, 2008
By Jim Collar
Post-Crescent staff writer
It figures into divorces and child- custody disputes.
It informs disorderly conduct cases, domestic battery, theft and worse.
It's substance abuse, and it's mentioned in about 90 percent of the case files that cross the desk of Scott Woldt, one of six Winnebago County circuit judges.
While cocaine and marijuana play a part in many criminal cases because of Winnebago County's position along the U.S. 41 corridor north of Milwaukee and Chicago, a perfectly legal substance flows through half of Woldt's caseload: Alcohol.
For those crimes where alcohol clearly is the cause, Wisconsin's rates are near the top in the nation.
Wisconsin had the sixth highest arrest rate for operating while intoxicated, according to 2006 FBI crime statistics, and the fourth highest arrest rate for liquor law violations.
The costs of alcohol abuse on the criminal justice system aren't easy to determine; alcohol consumption and crime aren't always a matter of cause and effect, statistics show. But police, judges and others say Wisconsin's uniquely deep-seated and seemingly intractable love affair with alcohol is a significant driver of criminal justice costs across the board.
State Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, estimated combined criminal justice and societal costs of alcohol abuse in Wisconsin at $3.2 billion annually. That figure includes estimates for policing, courts and incarceration, car crashes, premature deaths, lost productivity and academic failure. Berceau is a key proponent for an increase in the state's beer tax. The state Department of Transportation estimated that alcohol-related crashes alone accounted for a $512 million economic loss in the state in 2001.
Drunken driving is the most commonly cited example of drinking's impact in Wisconsin. A federal report released in April showed Wisconsin led the nation in the number of adult residents who reported driving while under the influence of alcohol in the previous year.
On the front lines of the fight to stanch the flow of alcohol into Wisconsin's streets and roads are cops like Sgt. Pat DeWall and Sgt. Dennis Weyenberg of the Appleton Police Department.
During a Saturday night foot patrol Feb. 23 in the 500 block of College Avenue, DeWall and Weyenberg happened upon colleagues who were trying to take an intoxicated woman into custody after a scuffle on the sidewalk.
The woman screamed for a female officer. She squirmed and swore as two male officers attempted to apply a set of handcuffs.
Weyenberg would not be so busy on the job, he said, if not for alcohol.
Costs pile up
Alcohol is every bit as much a part of Wisconsin's heritage as dairy farms and the Green Bay Packers. It's a component of social interaction, whether at a Wednesday night softball game or the annual church picnic.
But alcohol abuse is common and touches many areas of life, said Kari Kinnard, executive director of Wisconsin's Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In 2005, the state topped the nation for binge drinking, current alcohol use and chronic, heavy drinking among adults, according to the state Department of Health and Family Services.
The costs of alcohol abuse, measured in car crashes, lost productivity and crime, pile up.
Crimes specifically linked to alcohol illustrate its impact on Wisconsin's criminal-justice system.
From 1996 to 2004, Wisconsin's arrest rate for liquor-law violations was more than three times the national rate, according to the state Department of Health and Family Services.
In 2006, 20 percent of all juvenile and adult arrests made in Wisconsin were either for liquor-law violations or operating while intoxicated, state crime statistics show.
Alcohol figures into other crimes too. The U.S. Department of Justice estimated that more than one third of sexual assaults each year involve alcohol use on the part of the offender.
In violent crimes against spouses, 75 percent of victims reported that the offender was drinking before the offense, according to the justice department.
Beth Schnorr, director of Appleton's Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs, said there's a definite relationship between alcohol and domestic abuse, though it isn't necessarily cause-and-effect. Abusers use alcohol as an excuse. Victims use it as a coping mechanism.
In the Fox Cities, examples of the high cost of alcohol borne by the criminal justice system are everywhere. In the first five months of 2008, Winnebago County prosecutors charged 28 people with a felony-level crime for a fifth or subsequent drunken driving offense, court records show. Outagamie County filed another 12 cases.
But some costs to the criminal-justice system of alcohol use comes from preventive measures. Last year, police conducted about 3,500 tavern checks, Appleton Capt. Pete Helein said. The mere presence of officers goes a long way to prevent crime, he said.
Appleton police provide additional staffing on Friday and Saturday nights in the downtown entertainment district to assure that those enjoying College Avenue taverns are safe and behaving. Four officers traverse the avenue by foot and walk through taverns while others patrol by squad in search of drunken driving offenses.
The two pairs of officers walk beats on Friday and Saturday evenings from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. In 2006, the foot patrol racked up 1,767 hours of overtime, totaling $74,591. Those numbers rose to 2,065 hours and $89,769 in 2007.
Other officers focused on enforcement of drunken driving laws. In 2006, that effort generated 1,700 of overtime worth $70,839. In 2007, the hours dropped to 999 with a cost of $45,103 thanks to the addition of State Patrol officers assigned to Outagamie County. The troopers worked four-hour shifts resulting in 31 drunken driving arrests.
DeWall said he's pleasantly surprised by how many leave their cars behind on College Avenue in favor of cabs.
Yet, it's the few who don't that create the need for an additional police presence.
"It definitely changes people's personalities," Weyenberg said. "People do things they wouldn't dream about doing if they weren't drinking."
Posted by Gary at July 7, 2008 09:35 AM
So many accidents take place due to the reasons that drivers drive car while they are drunk.
Posted by: taylor1940 at October 9, 2008 05:14 AM
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