Aspen DUI arrests at decade low

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times
Aspen police officers Forrest Barnett, left, and Ritchie Zah help an intoxicated man at Rubey Park, right, find a ride home early in the morning on Dec. 27.
Jason Auslander/Aspen Times file photo |

Aspen police department dui arrests:

2009: 135

2010: 112


2012: 66

2013: 60

2014: 59

2015: 44

Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office DUI arrests:

2009: 28

2010: 31

2011: 33

2012: 38

2013: 51

2014: 48

2015: 42

In 2015, Aspen police officers arrested fewer than one-third the number of drunken drivers they arrested in 2009, according to Aspen Police Department statistics.

In fact, 2015 yielded the lowest number of total arrests by city officers in more than a decade and the fewest traffic citations in nearly a decade, according to the statistics.

“I’d love to take credit for it and say that we’re really driving down the numbers of drunk drivers,” said Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn. “But I don’t think that’s why the numbers are down.”

The reason comes down to staffing, he said.

The Aspen Police Department has been down an average of three officers during the past two years because of turnover in the ranks, Linn said. Presently, the department has four vacancies, though one officer just graduated from the police academy and three others are scheduled to start the academy today, he said.

Still, getting new officers fully trained to be able to patrol on their own takes months.

“It takes two weeks to quit but nine months to get them up to speed,” Linn said.

Ideally, the department wants to have three officers working during the day and four at night, he said. However, turnover has reduced those numbers to sometimes two officers during the day and three at night, he said.

That means officers have less time to devote to “self-initiated activities” like traffic patrols, Linn said, because they’re often running from service call to service call.

During the past decade, the department’s highest arrest numbers and highest DUI arrest numbers occurred between 2008 and 2010, according to statistics. For example, officers arrested 135 people on suspicion of DUI in 2009 and made 464 total arrests that year.

In 2015, by contrast, officers arrested just 44 people on suspicion of DUI and made a total of 312 arrests the entire year, according to the statistics.

The difference then as opposed to now is the economy, which has improved significantly since the Great Recession began in 2008, Linn said.

“In 2009, no one was even considering leaving,” he said. “Everybody was happy just to have a job.”

Now things are back to normal, he said, with small police agencies in Colorado averaging a 30 percent turnover rate.

Still, Linn said the turnover issues do not make him worried about the community’s safety. That’s because statistics over the past decade also show rates of crimes against people and property crimes have remained about the same, he said.

“I certainly would love to stay at full staff for a while and get the experience levels up so the numbers are more consistent,” Linn said. “But does it concern me? No.”

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office has had less of a turnover problem over the past decade, Undersheriff Ron Ryan said. Consequently, the agency’s DUI numbers tell a different story.

Since 2009, the number of DUI arrests by sheriff’s deputies has increased from 28 in 2009 to a high of 51 arrests in 2013 and 42 DUI arrests last year, according to statistics from that agency.

“My experience is that the primary influence for those types of things is how many hours we can spend looking (just) for DUI,” Ryan said.

And while Ryan pointed out that policing the city and policing the county are two very different assignments, he said one reason for the increase in county DUIs might be that deputies are catching some of the drivers city officers don’t have time to look for.

“That’s pure speculation,” he said.