A recent and surprising story from the Boston Globe discussed what appears to be an abnormally low number of drunk driving arrests reported in a major American city. Numbers obtained by the Boston Globe revealed that police in Boston only made 241 drunk driving arrests in all of 2012, shocking numbers given Boston’s rank as the 10th largest metro area in the country.
The number of DUI arrests in Boston is confusing given that it not only pales in comparison to the numbers for similar sized and even smaller cities, but also because it reflects a dramatic drop from numbers seen only a few years ago. The data revealed that since 2009, the number of drunk driving arrests in the city have dropped by an astounding 33 percent.
While Boston police were only able to track down 241 impaired drivers in 2012, police in Denver, a slightly smaller city, made 3,000 such arrests. Police in Charlotte, a city with a similar population but with a much smaller metro area, police made 1,600 impaired driving arrests. Philadelphia, another major east coast metropolis had more than 20 times as many arrests as Boston.
The newly released figures have surprised law enforcement officials in the area and have led to increasingly frustrated criticism from safety experts who claim the police have failed to do their job of policing the safety of the roadways. Experts believe that the lack of arrests is part of an overall culture that disregards the danger of drunk driving. A spokesperson for MADD argued that the department reinforces the idea that police have better things to do than spend time looking for drunk drivers. Critics have attacked the department in years past for refusing to conduct any sobriety checkpoints, one way of finding large numbers of impaired drivers.
The police claim that the numbers are not indicative of a lack of concern or enforcement, but instead emblematic of the city itself. They claim that Boston is a generally walkable town with access to widely used public transportation and that this reduces the number of drunk drivers for police to arrest. On the other hand, experts are quick to point out that the number of arrests in Boston are far lower than the number seen in Washington, D.C., another large, walkable city with access to widely used public transit. Last year police in D.C. made 1,633 impaired driving arrests, seven times more than in Boston, a city with a slightly larger population.
Even other law enforcement officials across the country were surprised by the numbers. When the director of a traffic safety department in Indianapolis was told of the numbers he responded by saying, “You’re kidding.” Marion County, which includes Indianapolis, makes 3,000 impaired driving arrests each year.
The same stark difference in DUI enforcement is apparent when Boston is compared to Minneapolis. Numbers from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety reveal that there were 6,769 DWI arrests in Hennepin County in 2011, a county slightly larger than the city of Boston but with more than 28 times more impaired driving arrests.
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