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Is it a good idea to award officers for DUI arrests?

The South Carolina Department of Public Safety recently handed out awards to officers who made a high number of arrests on DUI charges last year.

One state patrolman alone made 109 arrests on suspicion of DUI in 2012, which is almost as many as those made by the entire staff of an award-winning sheriff's department.

Besides the awards, in a part of the celebration called the "DUI Challenge", eligible police forces could enter to win a new police cruiser.

In a speech during the ceremony, the SCDPS director credited a statewide law enforcement crackdown on DUI to making the highways of South Carolina safer, claiming that South Carolina used to have the highest number of "DUI related impaired drivers" in the country. According to the director, such is no longer the case.

While the director's statistics may be correct, many factors could contribute to those figures. For one, it is difficult to know with certainty how many people are actually on the roads of South Carolina while being too drunk to drive. If no one catches these drivers in the act, then it is hard know whether they were in fact legally drunk. Moreover, education efforts and media campaigns may have just as much of an impact on drunk driving as a high volume of arrests.

On a broader note, while one would expect police officers to their job, having awards based on how many people an officer arrests for DUI might send the wrong message. It gives an incentive to the police to move forward with DUI charges even when the evidence in support of them is weak. It gives the public the message that anyone who is arrested for DUI and then charged with a crime because of that arrest must have done something wrong.

Such as not the case; not all DUI arrests lead to convictions, and not all DUI arrests in fact should lead to convictions. When someone has been arrested for a DUI, they may stand wrongfully accused and will need a vigorous defense to protect their rights.

Source: MidlandsConnect.com, "Law enforcement officers honored for most DUI arrests," Ivory Hecker, April 3, 2013

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