EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

STUDY OBJECTIVES AND APPROACH

This project evaluated a particular anti-DWI1 enforcement program that was designed to solve or ameliorate problems encountered in performing individual enforcement and adjudication functions of the system, and assessed the impact of the program on the effectiveness of the system as a whole. In performing this objective, we located a site that had identified problem chains and points of interdiction, and was in the process of implementing a program to correct or reduce the problems that had been recognized. This report details the findings of an evaluation of the program implemented by the Austin, Texas Police Department (APD).

RESULTS

The APD adopted a strategy for its anti-DWI enforcement program that incorporated the following elements:

  • Establishing anti-DWI enforcement as a priority within the Department.
  • Identification of specific areas where improvements in the Department’s anti-DWI enforcement effort would most likely benefit the performance of the anti-DWI enforcement system as a whole in reducing alcohol-related crashes.
  • Developing new organizational arrangements and procedures for accomplishing these improvements.
  • Providing the resources to operationalize these arrangements and procedures.

Program elements included:

  • Creation of a new, full-time team of DWI specialists to enforce DWI laws and to assist other units of the Department in processing DWI suspects.
  • Providing enhanced training of all officers in anti-DWI enforcement, including participation in the adjudication of DWI cases.
  • Requiring rookie officers to accompany members of the DWI team for four weeks to gain hands-on experience in identifying and processing DWI suspects.
  • Assigning officers to liaison with the court to track each case and only call in an officer when it is certain the officer will need to testify.
  • Allowing officers to participate in administrative license revocation (ALR) hearings by telephone.

We examined both the performance of the APD program as well as its impact on alcohol-related fatal crashes. We found positive changes in both, lending support to the hypothesis that the program has been an effective alcohol-crash countermeasure. By reassigning some general patrol personnel to the new anti-DWI Team and increasing command emphasis of anti-DWI enforcement, DWI arrests nearly doubled. Further, the number of alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal crashes has decreased by an estimated 25% since the start of the program. Several new procedural initiatives designed to increase DWI conviction rates were placed into operation, and DWI conviction rates increased by an estimated 10%.

Despite these positive results, some of the hoped-for improvements were not accomplished. Overall, DWI processing times did not decrease, possibly at least in part, due to the physical and procedural changes brought about by a new jail facility operated outside of the control of the APD. Processing times involving DWI suspects may even have increased slightly for the anti-DWI Team, possibly because of an increase in the quality of the arrests by the Team. Also, the number of DWI arrests by the general patrol units did not increase, but remained at about the same level as in the year before the program.

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

We conclude that the anti-DWI enforcement system improvements developed and implemented by the APD had a measurable positive effect on two critical system performance parameters, namely, increases in the number of DWI arrests and in the DWI conviction rate. These improvements in system performance most likely were responsible for a 25% reduction in drivers in alcohol-related fatal crashes. The success of this program clearly shows that a carefully designed effort addressing critical DWI law enforcement problems can be implemented without major changes to the existing organizational structure of a police department in a large city, and without the acquisition of large amounts of additional resources, including personnel, equipment and facilities.

We recommend that metropolitan police departments in other cities consider taking a similar approach to anti-DWI system improvement, adopting some of Austin’s techniques where they are appropriate and devising new ones where they are not. We note that some of Austin’s problems for which improvements were sought but not realized involved other organizations that did not have significant participation in the program. Foremost among these was the problem of time-consuming post-arrest processing of DWI suspects. In many instances, the involvement of other organizations (often with different priorities and constraints) will be difficult to obtain, but should nevertheless be sought.

1The acronym DWI refers to the criminal action of driving a motor vehicle while intoxicated by either alcohol or drugs.