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Placer County program targets worst DUI offenders

AUBURN, CA -- The Placer County Probation Department, which is launching a pilot program designed to take high-risk Driving Under the Influence (DUI) offenders off the streets, held a news conference today to describe the county’s recent efforts. Thanks to a $229,107 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), as well as support from local law enforcement and the Superior Court, high-risk DUI offenders will be subject to much more extensive disciplinary oversight.

Chief Probation Officer Stephen Pecor described the county’s recent efforts to hold more accountable those who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs through more aggressive probation monitoring. To date, more than 50 people living within Placer County who have been convicted of multiple DUIs have had their cases reviewed as a result of the grant-funded program.

“The DUI problem in Placer County, as in many other counties, has become the deadliest and most destructive of all crimes,” said Pecor. “The number of DUI arrests has increased very significantly in recent years, from 1,580 in 2000 – an average of 4.3 arrests a day – to 2,632 in 2006 – an average of 7.2 arrests per day.”

According to Pecor, high-risk DUI offenders will now face three to five years formal, supervised probation. In addition to spending time in jail, they will also have their fines, fees, and victim restitution closely monitored. They must complete Court and Department of Motor Vehicles substance abuse programs, submit to alcohol testing, search and seizure, employment and residence checks, as well as numerous other court-ordered probation terms.

“All drunk drivers are dangerous,” said District Attorney Brad Fenocchio. “This pilot program identifies those who are among the most dangerous, and it intensifies the pressure necessary to reduce their numbers. County population increases mean increased crime. This pilot project targets the repeat DUI offender by recognizing that they are the highest risk people who have already proved their dangerous propensity to drink and drive. Quite simply, this project will save someone’s life.”

Probation’s Adult Services Manager Karen Lund oversees the OTS grant and all related DUI supervision activities. She identified high-risk offenders as those drivers with such factors as a high blood alcohol content, prior DUI convictions or a criminal history. Other indicators included whether the arrest involved an accident or injury, whether children were present in the vehicle, and whether the defendant evaded arrest or provided false information.

“Law enforcement officers on the streets are the most visible part of anti-DUI efforts,” said Christopher J. Murphy, director of the California Office of Traffic Safety. “But programs like this can help tremendously to keep drivers who can’t get the message any other way off the streets and on a better, safer path.”

Superior Court Judge Colleen Nichols attributes the progress made in the pilot program to a large scale county and community response.

“Alarmed by the progressive increase in the number of DUI arrests in the county, the court called a meeting of all the agencies,” said Nichols. “After much discussion, the participants agreed on a course of action to reduce the number of repeat DUI offenders in Placer County.”

Judge Nichols and fellow Superior Court Judge Frances Kearney chaired a number of DUI Community Forums that were held last spring and summer. In addition to the Courts and Probation, attendees included police chiefs, District Attorney, Placer County Supervisors Jim Holmes and Bruce Kranz, the County Executive Officer, California Highway Patrol, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Placer County Health and Human Services, local attorneys, and concerned citizens.

Judge Nichols handles the majority of DUI cases in Placer County and works closely with local law enforcement agencies, the defense bar, District Attorney, and Probation to implement the high-risk DUI pilot project. After reviewing and assessing all of the case factors, this group makes a recommendation to Probation as to whether a given individual is at high risk of re-offending. Probation completes its assessment and makes a final recommendation to the court, which may choose to put the defendant on formal probation.

Bekki Riggan, Principal Management Analyst with the County Executive Office, coordinated the initial DUI symposium, where participants heard from experts and reviewed research about promising approaches being used in other jurisdictions. “I was very pleased with the coordinated efforts and results from the law enforcement community,” she said. “This solution appears to offer Placer County the best chance of reducing deadly accidents caused by drunk drivers countywide.”

The grant from to the Placer County Probation Department will fund a two-year pilot period from October 1, 2006, through September 30, 2008. It is funded by OTS through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Chief Probation Officer Stephen Pecor released the following information about Placer County DUI numbers over the past seven years.

Year # of DUI Arrests Average per Day

2000 1580 4.3

2001 1960 5.4

2002 1827 5.0

2003 1835 5.0

2004 1974 5.4

2005 2180 6.0

2006 2632 7.2

TOTAL: 13,988

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drivers with DUI convictions are 40 percent more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than drivers with no DUI convictions.

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