DUI fatality numbers plateau in Illinois

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SYCAMORE – In the past 30 years, alcohol-related crash fatalities in Illinois have been reduced by about 60 percent, and they’ve been nearly halved in the past 15 years.

In the past several years, however, the numbers remain relatively unchanged.

DeKalb law enforcement officials said they naturally take pride in keeping drunken drivers off the road. The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, specifically, boasted far and away the state’s greatest rate of DUI arrests per its 32 officers at 7.03 a year in 2016, nearly double the 3.87 clip in Macon County, according to a survey done by Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists.

Deputy Doug Brouwer led the department with 24 DUI arrests last year, and Dave Christiansen was a close second with 22, the survey shows.

Lt. Jim Burgh said credit is due to the county’s rural nature, deputies’ training and the Illinois Department of Transportation’s step grant, which pays for two-week campaigns in which extra cars are put on the road to enforce seat belt, child restraint, cellphone use and DUI laws.

“We give our deputies a lot of good training, and some of them take a lot more interest in DUIs than others,” Burgh said. “All of our deputies can do DUIs, but some try to do it more than others.”

He said youth also is a factor. The bulk of DUI arrests are made between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., shifts usually reserved for deputies with less tenure.

Deputies must volunteer to work the grant-funded extra shifts.

“They go out and do their job, and we know they’re not being told, ‘You have to do this, and you have to do that,’ because they’re handling other calls in between enforcing traffic,” Burgh said.

Local police departments try to do DUI checkpoints funded by the grant each year, but staffing is prohibitive. The DeKalb Police Department had planned to do two this year, but the state budget impasse hamstrung a Fourth of July checkpoint, and bad timing and lack of staff ruled out another earlier in the year, said Cmdr. Steve Lekkas, head of patrol for the department.

“The budget impasse hurt us,” he said.

He said in order to conduct the checkpoints, the department has to collaborate with neighboring agencies, including Sycamore, the sheriff’s office and Illinois State Police, to cobble together enough staff, and that the checkpoints call for upward of 12 officers.

“We’ll try to work something together, because we just don’t have enough manpower to staff it ourselves,” Lekkas said.

Departments must announce upcoming checkpoints, and then disclose results. The ideal results would be slim to none, Lekkas said, what with some bars looking to arrange rides home for patrons, a taxi cab service in town, and the development of Uber service in DeKalb County.

“The whole goal when we go out and do these details is to go out and not find anyone,” he said. “You’d hope after years and years of education, people will have found other ways to get home.”