DUI arrests double in county

By LaReeca Rucker


The Madison County DUI arrest rate almost doubled from 100 in March to 194 in April, and law enforcement officials say it's due to stricter enforcement.

Eddie Belvedresi, chief deputy of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, said grant funds are helping his department enforce DUI laws.

“The last couple of years, we have been given an overtime grant through the state Governor’s Highway Safety Program,” Belvedresi said. “We get $25,000 a year, and that is used for overtime for DUI enforcement.”

Belvedresi said several deputies with an interest in enforcing DUI laws are partially paid with grant funds. DUI enforcement is not limited to George Elliot, Richard Johnson, Shane Lang and Mark Sandridge, but they are the primary MCSO DUI law enforcers.

“Their hard work is the reason the numbers are up,” he said. “It takes a whole lot of effort these days with the court system like it is. An officer really has to cross all his ‘Ts’ and dot all his ‘Is’ to get a DUI conviction.”

Belvedresi said the sheriff’s office has been awarded the grant the last three years, but 2006 funding began in February. The retired Highway Patrol officer said he's appalled by the increasing number of DUI arrests.

“I don’t have an answer for it,” he said. “I know that strict enforcement is why there is a rise in arrests, but if the DUIs weren’t here, we wouldn’t be able to make the arrests.”

Belvedresi estimates that Madison County deputies make 800-1,000 DUI arrests annually.

“I would feel safe in saying that the DUI arrest rate here is higher than any other county in the state,” he said.

Belvedresi said statistics show that MCSO deputies made 56 DUI arrests in January, 74 in February and 118 in March. (This does not include DUI arrests made by other local police departments.)

“I haven’t run a tally on April yet,” he said, “but I’m going to say it was at least 150. The more the officers work, it’s progressively increasing, but it seems like it would decrease. It seems like people would learn. Why people continue to go out drinking in Madison County knowing that they are probably going to get picked up, I don’t know.”

Belvedresi said it may only be a matter of time before another DUI fatality will occur.

“How we can go this long in Madison County with this number of DUI arrests and not have a fatality is by the grace of God,” he said.

For the last four months, DUI arrest statistics have dominated the Madison County Jail docket.

Danny Berry, director of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers in Mississippi, said the increase in DUI arrests probably indicates that local law enforcement officers are being persistent. A dramatic decrease in DUI arrests, however, is almost always a negative indication.

While DUI arrest rates in Madison County are increasing, Berry said they declined statewide in 2005.

“For 2005, DUI arrests were dramatically down,” he said. “And it never fails, when DUI arrests go down, DUI fatalities go up.”

Berry said there were 341 DUI fatalities in Mississippi in 2005 and 331 in 2004. He said Katrina and the Iraq war may be factors in the decline.

“A lot of highway patrolmen were focused on the coast and taken away from a lot of duties, like writing DUIs,” he said. “A lot of our agencies are shorthanded. Manpower is down. I think when that happens, the deaths go up. That is why it is so critically important to support our police departments.”

At least 15 people were charged with DUI second in March and 19 in April. But the number of DUI third arrests declined from at least eight in March to at least one in April.

Jose Miguel Perez, 59, of 10311 Road 3401, Philadelphia, Miss., was arrested April 3 and charged with DUI third by the Madison County Sheriff’s Office.

Other crime trends
Madison County law enforcement officers arrested and booked at least 572 people at the Madison County Jail in April, indicating an increase in arrests. There were at least 478 people arrested and booked in March.

Marijuana was the drug possessed by most arrested for drug violations. Law enforcement officers made at least 67 marijuana-related arrests in April, comparable to 70 last month.

The number of cocaine arrests made in March and April appear identical. Eighteen were charged with possession or sale of the drug.
Domestic violence arrests rose slightly from at least 18 in March to at least 25 in April.