THIBODAUX — For the second year in a row, the Lafourche Sheriff’s Office tallied the most DWI arrests among sheriff’s offices within its population range, according to the state Highway Safety Commission.
Lafourche sheriff’s deputies’ 297 DWI arrests were more than double the Terrebonne Sheriff’s Office’s total of 140. Both agencies were ranked with other agencies that have between 50,000 to 99,999 licensed drivers in their parish.
While the numbers present a wide disparity, law-enforcement officials cautioned they do not necessarily mean you are less likely to get a DWI in Terrebonne if you are driving drunk.
They suggest a difference in department philosophies, and a larger presence from State Police in Terrebonne, officials said. State Police patrols state highways in both Lafourche and Terrebonne, enforcing traffic laws and investigating crashes.
“It’s not safe (to drink and drive) anywhere,” said Jamie Ainsworth, a spokeswoman for the state’s Highway Safety Commission. “Everybody’s out there enforcing.”
The Lafourche Sheriff’s Office asks each of its patrol deputies to make at least one DWI arrest per year, said Capt. Scott Silverri, head of the department’s patrol division.
Last year, the department awarded the deputy with the most DWI arrests a new patrol unit and a special license plate. Sgt. Roland Guillot recorded 53 DWI arrests to win the department’s inaugural Blue Max Award in 2009.
The high number of DWI arrests Guillot and other deputies made are largely attributed to a new emphasis on data-driven policing.
“Instead of just leaving it to chance, witnessing a car cross the center-line, over the last year we specifically targeted drunk drivers,” Silverri said.
The Lafourche Sheriff’s Office received a federal grant last year for a computer program called DDACTS, which stands for Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety.
The computer database maps out areas where high concentrations of DWI arrests and drunken-driving crashes have happened. Relying more on data than chance helped the Sheriff’s Office almost double its DWI total from 2008. The department made 154 DWI arrests in 2008.
The data-driven approach also played a major role in reducing fatal crashes, Silverri said.
The Lafourche’s Sheriff’s Office investigated 27 fatal crashes in 2008, he said. That number dropped to 10 in 2009. “There’s absolutely a causal relationship,” Silverri said of the drop in fatal crashes. “We’ve had a tremendous reduction in our crash totals.”
Those numbers do not necessarily account for fatal crashes investigated by State Police in the parish.
Whereas Lafourche deputies actively seek out drunk drivers, Terrebonne sheriff’s deputies focus more on criminal patrols.
The department can focus more on criminal complaints because there are more state troopers patrolling local roads, said Maj. Malcolm Wolfe, the spokesman for the Terrebonne Sheriff’s Office.
“State Police handles accidents and DWIs,” Wolfe said. “We handle everything else.”
There are generally four or five troopers patrolling Terrebonne at any given time, Troop C spokesman Bryan Zeringue said. There are usually three troopers in Lafourche. The reason is parish geography – Terrebonne is a wide parish, Lafourche is a long, narrow one.
Terrebonne’s total of 140 DWI arrests does not include arrests from DWI checkpoints the department and State Police perform together, Wolfe said.
Last year, State Police Troop C made 1,595 DWI arrests in its five-parish area, which includes Lafourche and Terrebonne, Zeringue said. Specific numbers for the number of arrests State Police made in Lafourche and Terrebonne were not immediately available.