Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Crime down, Drug and alcohol crashes up

By TRENTON JOHNSON

Capital News Service

 

LANSING—Car crashes caused by alcohol or drug use have increased, even as the statewide crime rate drops, according to crime statistics.

State Police Director Eddie Washington Jr. said the declining crime rate is not surprising, perhaps because fewer crimes are being reported and there are fewer officers to handle complaints.

One question is whether the crime rate has been influenced by the unemployment rate.

“The number of people injured in car crashes involving alcohol or drugs increased from 6,248 in 2008 to 6,271 in 2009. Much of that increase involved drivers who had drugs in their system, which accounted for 83 additional injuries last year compared to 2008,” said Jamie Mathews, secretary of the State Police Criminal Justice Information Center.

At the same time, arrests for impaired driving are down.

In 2009, Mathews said, there were 45,893 alcohol-and drug related driving arrests, 1,358 fewer than in 2008. The presence of alcohol in a driver’s system has long been a factor in arrests for drunken driving.

            Since 2003, driving with any trace of drugs such as heroin, marijuana or cocaine in a person’s system is illegal, and testing for those substances has doubled over the past five years, Mathews said.

In 2009, Alpena County reported 899 impaired driving crashes. Three of those involved fatalities and 106 involved injuries, Mathews said.

In 2009, Emmet County reported 1,353 such crashes, including three fatalities and 208 injuries.

Also last year, Grand Traverse County had 3,298 reported crashes. Five of them involved fatalities and 534 resulted in injuries.

Among the three counties, the number of crashes increased only in Emmet.

Statewide in 2009, Mathews said, 11,451 crashes were caused by the use of drugs and alcohol. The age group most involved in such crashes was 25- to- 34-year-olds, she said.            

Meanwhile, cities like Flint and Detroit have had significant reductions in law enforcement officers. Other cities that have lost officers include Highland Park, Pontiac and Benton Harbor, said Shanon Banner, State Police public affairs manager.

Washington said that’s due to agencies laying off officers and others retiring and not being replaced for economic reasons.

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