Drunk driving arrests in Massachusetts have declined this year according to an article in the July 20 Boston Herald. This is interesting because on July 14 the Boston Herald reported that "cops are busting boozy motorists at a record-breaking pace so far in 2011."
The Herald attempted to explained the contradiction. The paper said that it was due to an erroneous reading of complicated data from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. The Herald relayed the RMV's explanation "that the ["DWI Liquor"] category includes only some OUI violations" and that there were a large number of uncounted violations "in which the offender was sentenced to alcohol rehabilitation or treatment."
So, even though the articles were about arrests, the RMV numbers did not include people that were actually arrested and assigned to a treatment program. This is somewhat confusing, especially since the first article was counting citations. And as such would be an accurate way to count arrests. Why would a citation not be counted because the offender was assigned to treatment? Furthermore, if they are not counting the same numbers this year that they failed to count last year, wouldn't the first article be correct?
In any event, it may be that the RMV data showed convictions and the articles were focused on arrests. A first offender may actually admit to an OUI charge and not be convicted. After the admission, the case may be "continued without a finding" for a period of time, during which he/she must complete an alcohol treatment/education program.
What is even more interesting are two different reactions to the data. Massachusetts State Police spokesman, David Procopio responded to the article that described the spike in arrests by saying "we're very proud of what's happening out there . . . . we are working hard at trying to help people save themselves." When asked for reaction to the correction, he said that the decline in arrests was because they had fewer troopers available to patrol the roads. So, for the state police, more arrests are good because they are catching the drunk drivers. And conversely, fewer arrests are bad because it means that a lot of drunk drivers are getting away with it. This, of course, assumes that the number of drunk drivers remains a constant regardless of their efforts. Pessimistic?
Contrast this with anti-drunk driving advocates' reaction to the article describing the spike. In the first article they were quoted as saying that "the startling numbers signal a need to strengthen the laws." Unfortunately, the second article did not contain their perspective. One, however, would expect that they would be pleased with the decline and credit their efforts to stiffen penalties and educate the public.
In fact, in 2008, an anti-drunk driving advocate stated that increased enforcement coupled with "strong education and public relations program [sic] to let people know that they will be caught for drunk driving and facing stiff penalties, it is going to have an impact." ["Crackdown yields spike in OUI arrests" Boston Herald, Mike Underwood, June 26, 2008.]
I guess it all depends on your motives and perspective. Hopefully the advocates are right and their efforts (as well as police efforts) over the last several years have paid off.