Two ways to fight DUI
Of four proposals, at least two we should do ASAP
Recently the Daily News examined four ways to curb drunken driving in Anchorage.
Two of them -- increased police patrols in hot spots and mandatory breathalyzers in lieu of jail for some offenders -- we'd like to see started ASAP.
A third, roadblocks late at night in selected areas, look promising -- although Anchorage and Alaska have a history of resistance to either blanket or random law enforcement checks without cause.
The fourth, lowering the definition of legally drunk from .08 percent blood alcohol content to .05, seems to make little difference. Focusing on more thorough enforcement and prosecution at the .08 level looks more likely to deliver safer streets.
More police downtown
Anchorage Chief of Police Mark Mew said the department could put four more officers downtown on weekends for about $100,000 in overtime.
There's wide agreement that reinforced police presence downtown would both curb or catch drunken driving and limit the violence of the closing time bar breaks, where bad behavior punctuates the street scene. Bar and restaurant owners downtown want no part of a higher tax to cover the costs, saying they pay enough. Others figure they should ante up -- or let the drinkers cover the costs via taxes dedicated to dealing with alcohol abuse and drunken behavior.
It will take time to work out a new tax. But even if a tax failed, citizens should have little trouble demanding the city come up with $100,000 for better law enforcement. This is one of those investments of public money that should yield swift and tangible results. If we can come up with tens of thousands to cover contracts for port liaison jobs, one-man reviews of Title 21 and special lobbying assignments, we can find $100,000 for safer streets. Spread over the property tax base, homeowners would pay only a few cents more.
A stronger police presence downtown at rowdy time might well pre-empt a whole range of crimes. This would be modest money well spent.
BREATHALYZERS IN LIEU OF JAIL
As an alternative to jail, it may be both attractive and onerous. Repeat or first-time DUI offenders measuring more than twice the legal limit could remain free if they agreed to take -- and pay for -- breathalyzer tests twice a day. If they're sober, they stay out of jail. If they don't, police could pick them up.
Anchorage has some experience with this in domestic violence cases, in which not only freedom but child custody provides a strong incentive to sobriety.
This is steady monitoring that has the virtues of both justice and prevention. Offenders would bear the burden of twice-daily tests, but it's a burden they would have brought upon themselves. And several months of clean tests would mean that the community prevented more potential drunken driving incidents.
Alaskans' jealous guard of their privacy has kept roadblocks out of the discussion here until recently, and that's no surprise in a state that featured bipartisan resistance to parts of the Patriot Act and the drive for Real ID. In Anchorage, opposition either killed or prevented measures like photo radar in school zones and for red-light runners.
Most states have DUI roadblocks, and the Supreme Court has ruled them constitutional with certain provisions, like advance warning and the least delay for sober drivers. This is classic tension between public safety and individual privacy, the effectiveness of a dragnet versus the requirement for probable cause. Let's have this discussion (please see the invitation below).
Breathalyzer monitoring and more officers enforcing the law downtown both look like common sense measures with safer streets and swifter justice as the payoffs for investment. We should give them a try.
BOTTOM LINE: To curb DUI and other abuses linked to alcohol, let's keep a closer watch downtown and offer a tough alternative to jail for offenders.