DUI cases double in city of Bremerton

Impaired driving cases in Kitsap County has slightly decreased in the last few years, but it doesn’t seem like it in Bremerton Municipal Court.

Numbers released by the Bremerton court show DUI filings more than doubled recently, from 139 in 2007 to 353 in 2011. On the surface, the numbers seem to show a sudden increase in drunken driving in the city. Actually, DUIs in the county as a whole have slightly decreased in the last few years.

But the increase in DUI cases mostly reflects a change in the City of Bremerton’s police and prosecutor’s policy.

Before 2006, not all Bremerton police officers were trained in DUI processing, which can take up to four hours, and if an officer found probable cause that a driver was intoxicated, had the option to call in a Washington State Patrol trooper to handle the arrest. In 2006, the department brought on more officers and made DUI enforcement a priority, said Bremerton Police Chief Craig Rogers.

Those cases are now prosecuted in Bremerton Municipal Court, rather than Kitsap County District Court. The move has increased both the workload and the fine and fees contribution to the city’s operations budget.

When adding up statistics from the two courts, DUIs in Bremerton and unincorporated Kitsap County combined have tapered off slightly in the last few years, down from 1,251 in 2009 to 1,145 in 2011, according to data from Kitsap District Court clerk, Maury Baker.

Bremerton Municipal Judge James Docter said the problem for the city is that while it’s processing more DUIs and his courtroom is busier, it hasn’t seen more funding.

“DUIs have increased, but the budget for jail has not increased one bit,” he said.

Rogers said it is his police department’s goal to “stay tough” on impaired driving, and Bremerton’s graveyard shift officers will be awarded for their DUI enforcement efforts on April 18 by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission .

Despite the statistics, drunken driving is still difficult to quantify. Marsha Master, Kitsap County Traffic Safety Task Force coordinator, said looking at arrests and case numbers isn’t necessarily a perfect record of how many people are actually driving under the influence.

“We don’t know whether law enforcement is doing a good job, or because there are more [drunken drivers],” she said.

“When we go out and do our emphasis patrols, I don’t know whether I wish we’d get a whole lot or to wish we don’t get any.”

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