Casper’s police chief is alarmed by the number of drunk drivers in Wyoming’s second-largest city.
Chief Keith McPheeters said drunk driving arrests in Casper were up 46% last month over December 2022. For all of 2023, McPheeters said drunken driving arrests were up 13.5%.
And not only are there more DUI arrests, people are driving more intoxicated, he said. Officers are measuring much higher blood alcohol content levels in many of their DUI arrests. Under Wyoming law, a person is impaired if that blood alcohol level is 0.08% or higher.
“We have way too many persons who are neglecting their civic responsibility in finding a safer way to get home rather than driving their vehicle after consuming alcohol,” McPheeters said. “We go to great lengths to facilitate some alternatives to that.”
McPheeters said his 95-officer department is responding to more calls across the spectrum of policing that often ties them up from patrolling to look for impaired drivers. Yet, arrests prompted by patrols, crashes and public reporting are still up.
For example, Casper officers on Jan. 11 responded to a crash and arrested a suspect for driving under the influence after his vehicle hit a pole. The arrest affidavit in the case said officers “could immediately smell alcohol.”
The suspect was hurt and was taken to the hospital for treatment, he said. The driver refused sobriety testing, so a court order was obtained for a blood draw and one of the officers ended up getting hit in the face, and another officer kicked twice in the jaw.
A Few 0.30% Drivers
“The average blood alcohol content at the time of arrest and at the time of the crash are going up, and we’ve had some extremes,” McPheeters said. “So, here it’s very abnormal to have drivers higher than a 0.30%. But we have been having some of those.”
At the Natrona County Sheriff’s Department, spokesperson Kiera Grogan said deputies were involved in the increased multi-agency patrols for impaired drivers over the holidays.
“From Christmastime through New Year’s, there were four total DUIs, 52 hours for that campaign period,” she said. More data was not immediately available.
Jail records provided by the Natrona County Sheriff’s Department show nine Casper Police Department arrests for driving-related alcohol infractions between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1. Evansville police had one arrest, and the Mills Police Department had one as well.
Evansville Police Also Seeing Increase
Evansville Police Chief Mike Thompson said his officers had 42 DUI arrests for 2023. He said his officers also are seeing increased blood alcohol levels.
“We had quite a few blow 0.18 or 0.20,” he said. “The majority were in the higher range.”
McPheeters points to the Natrona County Safe Ride program, which his department supports via fundraisers and social media as a solution to prevent tragedy. The program gives residents a free ride home with just a phone call.
“It is as convenient as can be,” he said. “We empower the clerks, waiters and waitresses, and bartenders in licensed liquor establishments to recognize that ‘Mr. Smith’ here has had too much to safely drive home,” he said. “So, we empower them to make arrangements for them to provide a taxi ride or Uber ride home. It’s free to the patron. It’s just making sure we minimize those opportunities for a tragedy to happen in our community.”
A spokesperson for the program was not available. Older statistics on the Natrona County Safe Ride Facebook page show the program provided more than 9,400 free rides through 2018. Its website also shows that between 2010 and 2018, Natrona County law enforcement officers had more than 6,000 DUI arrests.
The Safe Ride membership includes several local restaurants and bars, one is Galloway’s Pub. Owner Dan Galloway said he helped start the initiative and once served on its board. He said he has not had to use it much, but staff are aware of its availability.
“When your customer is there and he is inebriated … we try and talk them into not driving for their sake,” he said. “They come and get them at no charge. I appreciate and respect the program.”
Liquor License Numbers
Information on the city of Casper’s website shows the potential of alcohol availability in the city. The website lists six types of liquor licenses allowed within its jurisdiction. The numbers are based on population and set by state statute. Information on the website shows the city can approve:
Up to 36 retail liquor licenses. There are none available.
Up to 19 liquor licenses for bar and grill establishments. There are four available.
A limitless number of liquor licenses for restaurants.
Up to 36 licenses for microbrewery and winery establishments. There are 28 available.
Up to three satellite licenses for wineries. There are two available.
A limitless number of licenses for winery/resort establishments.
The Casper city code also allows for alcohol licenses for various events.
McPheeters said the science and research make it clear alcohol abuse can create “selective disinhibition” that results in poor decisions.
“I’ve been doing this for 32 years and over the thousands of times I’ve asked people, ‘Are you OK to drive?’ What do they always say? ‘I’m fine,’” he said. “In my entire career, I think I’ve only had two people who said, ‘Man, I’m hammered, I don’t think that I should be driving.’”
He hopes that changes.
“We are still in the midst of a trend that we don’t like. People are going to get hurt, and we are trying to avoid that tragedy,” McPheeters said. “We would like to promote change in the community prior to that happening. That motivates everybody to be more careful about their decision making.”
Dale Killingbeck can be reached at email@example.com.