Crackdown on Crime - DWI's hit all time high

By Lee Peck - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - In the last ten years traffic citations in Calcasieu Parish have more than doubled - hitting an all time high of 20,000 last year alone. That does not include DWI's: they're also up from 452 in 1999 to more than 1,600 in 2008. Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier credits the spike to Calcasieu Force - the vast network of law enforcement agencies targeting impaired drivers.

"I think what we have doubled are the people we are catching who have always been drinking and driving in Calcasieu Parish," said DeRosier.

Grants funding random DWI checkpoints have also helped. But working against them is the statute that allows judges to reduce the sentences for multiple DWI offenders - something DeRosier's office is seeing more of.

"Many years ago, I can remember that judges would sentence 3rd and 4th offense DWI people to 5 or 10 years in prison and that's it, they went to jail," recalled DeRosier.

Now multiple offenders have several options, including drug abuse counseling and house arrest with a suspended driver's license. While DeRosier is not against that, he says the law needs to be changed for those who don't follow orders.

"The judges can order that they don't drive anymore, but that is not going to physically stop somebody from driving while they're drinking, while they're impaired and injuring or killing somebody on the highways. So the statute needs to be amended. That's what it tells me," said DeRosier.

Helping change that culture is State Representative Jonathan Perry. "We're not saying don't drink, but what we're saying is if you drink - don't drive. And if you do you are going to face harsher penalties than what you have in the past," said Rep. Perry.

A former police officer and prosecutor, Perry noted at Thursday's legislative luncheon several increased penalties under Governor Bobby Jindal's DWI Task Force - including refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test.

"It was actually an incentive before not to blow because it was less of a penalty if you got convicted of a DWI," explained Perry.

As Calcasieu and parishes around the state continue to crack down and toughen the laws, DeRosier expects opposition.

"Because we're making it tougher. Remember it used to be tough and got easier. So bringing it back in that direction is not going to be real easy to do," said DeRosier.

DeRosier expects to propose his changes to the statue to lawmakers before the next legislative session. Meanwhile as part of our Crackdown on Crime series, we'll start profiling multiple DWI offenders here in Calcasieu Parish.

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