Pawlenty pushes ignition locks for DWI offenders
GRAND FORKS -- The East Grand Forks police chief welcomes Gov. Tim Pawlenty's initiative to stiffen drunken driving penalties in Minnesota, including expanding the use of ignition locks that require proof of sobriety to start a car.
Pawlenty said Tuesday he would ask lawmakers, who start the session next month in St. Paul, to draft new laws including lowering the blood-alcohol amount that triggers greater penalties, from 0.20 percent to 0.15 percent.
The ignition locks typically use a breathalyzer device and require less than 0.02 percent blood-alcohol, far less than the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent. Only a few are in use in Minnesota, according to published reports. They can be used instead of incarceration in some DWI cases, so offenders can keep their jobs.
"I would be in favor of that, as many repeat offenders as there have been throughout the region and the state, and in North Dakota," said East Grand Forks Police Chief Michael Hedlund, on hearing of Pawlenty's plan Tuesday. "Is it a perfect system? Absolutely not. But there really isn't a perfect system. You can always find a way around just about anything. But especially for chronic offenders, the ones who have had four or five DWIs and are still reoffending, these people obviously still are not getting the message."
The most notorious case in the region may be Danny Lee Bettcher, of Wadena, Minn., who was sentenced last week to four years in prison for his 27th drunken driving conviction.
Bettcher, who also spells his name Boettcher, also has listed an address in New York Mills, Minn., where he was arrested for his latest DWI, in May, according to news reports.
He's been in jail since his arrest last May. He was sentenced last week on a single felony count of DWI, while other charges, including driving with a canceled license and possession of marijuana, were dismissed at his sentencing in Otter Tail County district court in Fergus Falls last week.
Hedlund, who worked years for the Grand Forks Police Department, said in cities this size, officers on patrol get to know some of the frequent fliers.
"I know when I was on patrol, several times I stopped people because I knew there was no way they could have a driver's license," Hedlund said. "Our officers are aware of a few people in town like that, from prior arrests they have made."
He's never used, or even seen, the ignition lock/breathalyzer device used in Minnesota.
"I know they are not cheap," he said. But such monitors can be far less expensive than incarceration, he said. "And it's more than just dollars and cents, in the long run. What if someone goes out and has a crash and someone gets killed?"