HELENA – The total number of Driving Under the Influence citations given out by Helena police in 2016 was down significantly from the year before.  That number could be related to an officer shortage experienced last year.

There were 191 DUIs issued last year compared to 245 in 2015.

“A drop of 20 percent on DUIs is significant,” says Assistant Helena Police Chief Steve Hagen.  “When it’s just one year, it’s kind of hard to judge what it is.  But if we look at our last year we were short officers, we’ve been about 20 percent short on officers over the year.”

Assistant Chief Steve Hagen says retirements, departures by officers to other agencies and injuries have all played a role in having fewer officers available to take part in extra shifts that focus on drunk driving enforcement.

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“They’re voluntary and they’re overtime. They’re beyond their normal duties, so if they’re working more overtime because we’re short of officers and they’re not working that overtime, it has a cumulative effect,” says Hagen.

Aside from regular and extra enforcement, efforts continue by the DUI Task Force to pound home the message to not drink and drive.

“The DUI Task Force does ads, radio ads, tv ads, we do a lot of different things, try put messages up at billboards at various locations around town,” explains Lt. Jayson Zander.

He says there is always hope that the message is getting through.

“The repercussions of financial or going to jail are quite secondary to the possibility of injuring yourself or somebody else because of your inability to operate a vehicle safely,” says the lieutenant.

“Less DUIs on the road is really what we’re shooting for,” adds Hagen.  “If that’s what we’re accomplishing, that’s great. We don’t know if that’s a fact yet, long-term we’ll have to see.”

Hagen says Helena P.D. has made multiple new hires in the past six months, with some of those officers on the road and some currently going through training. More hiring is underway.

He says 2017 is already starting off with an increase in DUI arrests.

“In January, we’ve already increased our numbers,” says Hagen.  “So, do not drink and drive. It isn’t worth it, there’s always somebody out there looking for them.”

In total, DUI arrests were down last year for Helena Police, East Helena Police, Montana Highway Patrol and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Combined there were 399 for 2016, compared to 499 in 2015.