Study: Liquor privatization hasn't resulted in rise in DUI arrests, as some feared

SEATTLE -- The raw data on alcohol-related arrests came from the Washington State Patrol -- and it shows they are declining.

The results were extrapolated by The Washington Policy Center, an independent, nonpartisan think tank.

"When the initiative (to privatize liquor sales) was being debated, I think there was some scare tactics being used with the public,” said Paul Guppy with The Washington Policy Center.

The WPC looked at data on alcohol arrests from the 2008-2009 fiscal year and compared it to the 2012-2013 fiscal year and found predictions of doom from those who opposed privatization were greatly exaggerated.

"I think they were reaching for the most dramatic prediction they could make, that kids would get alcohol, that the roads would be more dangerous and, again, it was a kind of scare tactic that was used but we're finding that the numbers show that that hasn't turned out to be the case,” Guppy said.

The Washington Policy Center found DUI arrests down 10%, DUI-related collisions down 18% and minors in possession of alcohol fell 47%.

"We would certainly agree that the sky isn't falling, but we think it is problematic to draw this conclusion from these numbers,” State Patrol spokesman Robert Calkins said.

A drop in DUI-related arrests is great news for police and the public, but the State Patrol believes staffing, or the lack thereof, is more likely the reason DUI arrests continue to decline.

"We think the number of DUI arrests is much more a function of how many troopers we have on the road as opposed to any change in societal behavior,” Calkins said.

The State Patrol is currently down about 80 troopers.

The Washington Policy Center said it took that into account, but it didn't change the findings.

"We found that arrests were down anyway so even though the State Patrol is down slightly in officers, arrests are even down more than that,” Guppy said.

Still, the State Patrol believes the number of troopers makes a difference.

"When you're short of troopers, it’s now the troopers you have left have to go to more collisions, more disabled vehicles, they don't have time to do the kind of proactive patrol that you can go out and arrests DUIs for. So the shortage of troopers has an impact on remaining troopers,” Calkins said.

Whether the downward trend continues is anyone’s guess but the State Patrol staffing problem is expected to get worse before it gets better.

Three hundred more troopers are becoming eligible for retirement in the next few years, which would obviously stretch resources even further.

They are hiring and anyone interested is encouraged to apply.