DUI arrests on the rise in Central Florida

Law enforcement officers share perspective on DUI problem

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The number of arrests for driving under the influence is increasing in parts of Central Florida.

[WEB EXTRA: DUI arrests by agency ]

In Orange County, the Sheriff's Office has arrested 668 DUI suspects so far this year, according to stats released Tuesday afternoon. That's just over a 4 percent increase from the 641 DUI arrests over the same period last year.

"You can't catch everyone. That's virtually impossible. But we do what we can," said Orange County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Brad Roberts, who supervises the DUI unit. "The guys work their butts off. They deserve all the credit they can get, because it's nonstop for them, night after night."

Roberts' evening traffic unit has seen a 20 percent spike in arrests so far this year.

A major focus of OCSO's DUI squad is the east side of town, near the University of Central Florida.

"We work a lot around the college, because you know, when I was their age I thought I was bulletproof too," Roberts said.  "I thought I could do anything and I would not be held accountable for it. And we're seeing an increase in that area as well as other areas."

UCF Police Chief Richard Beary and his officers made 70 DUI arrests last year, teaching many students the hard way that they will be held accountable. But Beary believes there's a lesson to be learned beyond the arrest.

"It's not just about getting arrested. It's not just about getting a record," Beary said. "It's about taking another human's life. It's about putting someone in a wheelchair for the rest of their life."

While the university takes steps to educate students on the dangers of drunken driving, Beary wants parents to take on a greater role.

"I think we need to educate parents that drinking and driving is a problem, and you can't wait for them to get to college to have that conversation," Beary said. "You need to have that conversation when they're in middle school, and you need to have that conversation every time there's a report of a drunk driver." 

Roberts agreed that education is critical. He also said his deputies don't get bonuses for making more DUI arrests. Instead, they're motivated to get drunks off the road by seeing the carnage caused by DUI fatalities firsthand.

"When you roll up and you see dead college kids, those drivers (responsible) are not the ones having to tell these parents your baby's dead. It's us as law enforcement," Roberts said.

Law enforcement officers deliver that tragic news by the thousands, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement records tracking DUI arrests by county and agency.

Orange County had the most DUIs last year, with 3,031 -- about 25 DUIs for every 10,000 residents.

But when you take population into account, Brevard County had the highest rate of DUI arrests -- about 31 for every 10,000 residents, with a total of 1,671 arrests.

Seminole County's 628 arrests calculated to the lowest rate of DUI arrests for its population, about 15 for every 10,000 residents.

Volusia County had 1,110 total arrests, which worked out to be 22 arrests per 10,000 residents. Osceola County's DUI arrest rate per 10,000 residents was about the same, when weighing its 621 arrests against its population.

Lake County's DUI arrest rate per 10,000 residents was a bit higher at 26. The total DUI arrests there was 793.

The city with the highest rate of DUI arrests per population was Daytona Beach Shores. The department, serving the city of just 4,258, arrested 69 people last year. By comparison, Ormond Beach also had 69 DUI arrests, and its population is 38,376. 

Daytona Beach Shores Public Safety Director Stephen Dembinksy credits his high arrest rate not to more drunks on his roads, but instead to the unique public safety model at his department.

"Every police officer you see on street is also a firefighter and has all his gear with him," Dembinksy said. "So I have twice as many police officers on the street or twice as many firefighters on the street."

Dembinksy said all agencies in Volusia County work hard to put drunks behind bars, and stressed that "a small town like this wouldn't have this many officers on the street if it wasn't for the public safety model."