David Moody

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Lubbock Traffic Deaths 2010

More than half of last year’s fatal car wrecks were alcohol- or drug-related — a rate that jumped over 2009 numbers and exceeded state- and nation-wide averages, according to numbers recently released by the Lubbock Police Department.  Lubbock is dangerous.

 Of the 29 roadway deaths on Lubbock streets in 2010, 15 lives were lost in confirmed alcohol- or drug-related crashes compared to nine of the 23 deaths in 2009, according to police records.

 In 2008, 18 of the 37 deaths were alcohol- or drug-related. However, all other alcohol-related crashes were slightly down last year — 393 compared to 409 in 2009, according to agency numbers.

DWI arrests were up just slightly last year. But the rate of fatal crashes involving alcohol or drugs was higher than most other communities statewide — 6.8 deaths per 100,000 residents in Lubbock compared to the 2009 average of 4.98 per 100,000 in Texas, the most recent year for which data was available, according to an Avalanche-Journal analysis of Lubbock Police and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration data.

Of the 15 alcohol-related deaths last year, seven were killed when their car was hit by or they were passengers in a vehicle driven by a drunk driver. Eight of the those killed were intoxicated, according to police records. Criminal charges have been filed in connection with the seven deaths.

In Texas — one of the worst states in the nation for drunk driving deaths in 2009 — about 40 percent of all crashes were alcohol- or drug-related compared to 32 percent nationwide, according to the transportation safety administration. “Certainly (drunk driving is) a problem,” said Lubbock Police Traffic Lt. Jon Caspell, but he didn’t think the numbers necessarily indicated a bigger problem than other cities, noting there are just too many unique factors from community to community to draw conclusions based solely on numbers. Still, Caspell said, the police department has been conducting as many patrols as possible with the manpower available to curb drunk driving, though he admitted if the department was up to full strength, it likely could conduct even more. But he added: “(Staffing shortages) hasn’t affected our ability to have proactive patrols.”

Last year, Lubbock officers spent more than 1,000 hours conducting DWI-specific patrols through the Selected Traffic Enforcement Program grant, according to agency numbers. Those patrols resulted in 60 DWI arrests. In total, officers made 616 DWI arrests last year compared to 585 in 2009, records show.

The number of DWI arrests has dropped some in the past couple of years — for example, police made 820 arrests in 2008. Caspell sees the drop as a good sign, hopeful it’s an indication that DWI patrols and community education are working to increase awareness and curb the behavior that is a significant public safety danger.

He said he didn’t think an internal staffing shortage contributed to the drop because the time spent on patrols hasn’t fluctuated with department numbers nor has it changed drastically over the past several years.

Officers are paid overtime rates for the five-hour DWI-specific shift. The Texas Department of Transportation provides a $100,000 grant for various patrols — including DWI and speeding — but the department must match the funds, said Karen Peoples, TxDOT safety education officer. “It’s education as well as enforcement,” she said about battling the problem of drunk driving.

When it comes to enforcement, police hope that their efforts to beef up the department also will lead to more DWI patrols. While police maintain the number of patrols hasn’t adversely been affected by manpower struggles as of yet, Caspell said the agency likely would have more patrols if they had more officers. The department started 2010 about 53 officers short, but made some strides over the past year, according to numbers from the agency’s academy records. The force was up to 380 sworn officers at the end of 2010 — the closest the department has been in a while to being fully staffed, but still 42 short its authorized strength of 422.

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