While DWI arrests were down within the Detroit Lakes city limits, among greater Becker and Otter Tail counties, the alcohol related incidents showed little change from 2019 to 2020, according to new statistics from law enforcement officials.
The Detroit Lakes Police Department reported a 30% decrease in the amount of DWI arrests from 2019 to 2020. In 2019, police arrested 59 individuals for DWI, but, in 2020, that number fell to 41, said Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steven Todd.
"There were so many restrictions on liquor establishments in the state of Minnesota due to COVID," said Todd. "So, you had less availability of alcohol. You could go buy alcohol at a liquor store, but you'd typically go home to drink it, so there wasn't a need for people to commute from an establishment to anywhere else."
Todd said the Detroit Lakes DWI citation numbers for the city included both minor and major DWI crimes. The major infractions are prosecuted by the Becker County attorney's office, while the minor offenses, like first time offenders and 4th degree DWI citations, are handled by the city attorney's office.
"We would be happy if these numbers were zero," Todd said. "Our goal is not to have to arrest people, we wish we didn't have to, but if better choices were made, we wouldn't need to arrest people for DWI."
However, across Becker and Otter Tail counties, the DWI arrest numbers remained relatively flat, according to statistics provided by both counties sheriff's offices.
"There are other things that can factor into (the numbers)," said Becker County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Shane Richard. "New officers out on the road are, generally, a little more aggressive … and sometimes our numbers just fluctuate.
In total across Becker County, law enforcement arrested three fewer individuals for DWI in 2020 compared to 2019. In Otter Tail County, 12 more DWI arrests were made during the same time period.
Richard said, "It's possible that sometimes you get a little bit more, I don't know if you want to call it, lucky, or unlucky, with your traffic stops."
He also said there could be nights were a deputy could stop five cars and none of them are alcohol related, but another night the same deputy could stop two cars, and both could be cited for DWI.
"It could just be that we were peaking at the same time that there were less people on the road (due to the pandemic) and so those numbers almost look identical," said Richard. "Had there been more people on the road, it could've been an higher peak. It could've just been that the numbers for 2019 were low."
Across the state, the amount of drivers cited for speeding over 100 mph doubled from 2019 to 2020, according to data from the Minnesota State Patrol.
"Too often we see crashes from distracted or impaired driving where speed turns a minor crash into a fatal or life-changing event for those involved," said Mike Hanson, director of the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety, in a statement. "We all need to drive smart by going the speed limit or driving to the conditions of the road, especially in the winter. If we all do our part, we can get home safely to our families at the end of the day."
The highest recorded individual speeding ticket for 2020 occurred in October where a driver was clocked going 153 mph, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
In an effort to reduce traffic crashes, injuries and deaths, Minnesota law enforcement agencies concluded their extra speed enforcement campaign on Feb. 1 and cited 7,252 drivers for speeding over the course of one month.
"We are very frustrated and appalled by the lack of compliance to Minnesota speed limits by some drivers in our state," said Col. Matt Langer, chief of the Minnesota State Patrol, in a released statement. "Traveling above the speed limit, especially more than 100 mph, is unacceptable and puts the lives of everyone around you in danger. If you speed, expect our troopers to stop you and cite you with a ticket. Our hope is that motorists heed our warning and slow down!"
Traffic fatalities on Minnesota roads increased 38% in 2020, compared to 2019, according to Minnesota Department of Public Safety statistics.
Langer said each State Patrol district in Minnesota will have extra, speed-focused enforcement for the next several months. Drivers can expect to see troopers looking for speeders at any time on any state highway, or interstate.