CHP: SCV sees 15% rise in year-to-date DUI arrests

Officer Josh Greengard of the California Highway Patrol's Newhall Area Office questions a driver during a 2018 operation by a CHP DUI task force.

A comparison of January-to-November DUI arrest data for 2019 to 2020 from the California Highway Patrol shows a nearly 15% rise in arrests for driving under the influence for the year, according to local data.

For the first 11 months of 2019, CHP officers arrested 549 individuals on drunken-driving charges in the Santa Clarita Valley, according to data provided by the CHP Newhall-Area Office. During the same period in 2020, 631 individuals were booked on suspicion of DUI for the same area.

And while the 2019 statewide DUI data reflects a yearslong trending decline in DUI arrests, according to  an annual DMV report, CHP officers also recorded a four-month stretch in 2020 after the stay-at-home orders were lifted that saw a 42% increase in DUI arrests over the previous year.

From July to October, the rates of DUI arrest for CHP officers saw a significant jump, as SCV drivers — as well as those from around the county and state — hit the roads again. (Editor’s note: Citing a recent policy change from Sheriff Alex Villanueva, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station declined to make the DUI data available, and instead directed a request from The Signal for DUI-arrest information to the Sheriff’s Department’s office that handles California Public Records Act requests. A request was filed. The Sheriff’s Department has yet to respond. A similar request for hate-crime data made Oct. 29 is still being processed.)

Slow start

In the first six months of 2020, drunken-driving arrests appeared to remain close to the previous year’s numbers most months, despite noticeably fewer cars on the road for the second half of March, April and May — when Los Angeles County entered a county and statewide lockdown, and gradually began to reopen in June. There was one more DUI for the first six months of 2019 compared to the same time period for 2020.

A spokesman for the local CHP office noted that 2019 represented a trending decline in DUI arrests, and that officers expected to see the trend for recent years continue, initially, when so many fewer were driving for the first part of 2020.  In fact, the relatively low numbers for the first half of the year were part of a statewide reduction, according to a CHP release in July, which pointed out the number of DUI arrests made by CHP officers decreased during March and April, from 7,224 in 2019 to 4,223 in 2020 — nearly a 42% drop.

“For the first six months, I assumed that the numbers were going to be down, because of the stay-at-home orders (and fewer cars were on the road),” said Josh Greengard, spokesman for the local CHP station. “For the last few months, the numbers have spiked a little bit.”

Increased activity

Once activity began to return some sense of a socially distanced normal from July to October, the DUI arrests began to spike, according to the data. The month-by-month numbers bear this out, with 201 DUI arrests from July to October in 2019 and 286 from July to October in 2020

The number of DUI arrests so far for December is eight, according to CHP arrest logs, a figure that totalled 42 last year, including maximum enforcement periods for the holidays that have yet to take place.

Greengard said while he might not have exact reasons for the increases and decreases in the arrest data, officers’ focus for the holiday season remains on road safety, regardless of the holiday or a pandemic.

“I can’t explain the spike, but that’s why it’s important for everyone to be careful and to still be safe about traveling,” Greengard said. “There are huge issues going on in the world, but following the law still has its place. You still have to follow the law.”

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