Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Oconee County Experienced A Decline In Driving Under The Influence Arrests As Alcohol Law Changed

Issue On Watkinsville Agenda

Oconee County has been experiencing a decrease in arrests for driving under the influence going back to 2008, when the Board of Commissioners approved the sale of beer and wine in county restaurants.

Oconee County also compared favorably with neighboring counties in terms of the number of DUI cases in the court system in the last five years.

In January, the county changed the 2008 ordinance to allow for the sale of liquor by the drink in county restaurants, and the city of Watkinsville is likely to follow suit tomorrow night.

The data on DUI arrests provide a benchmark against which future data can be compared to determine the impact, if any, of this year’s changes in the county’s alcohol ordinances.

Data From Sheriff Office

Oconee County Chief Deputy Sheriff Lee Weems provided me with the data on DUI arrests, which he said were compiled by DeeDee Schaefer, administrator in the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office.

The data, according to Weems, were checked against bookings in the county jail and reflect arrests regardless of agency making the arrest.

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It was not possible to go back further in time because of limitations of the records available, according to Weems, but the data show a high of 218 arrests in 2008.

This coincides with the Georgia State Patrol conducting “Rolling Thunder” checkpoints after University of Georgia football games, Weems said.

Since 2008, arrests have been relatively constant, excepting for an increase in 2012 and the decline in 2014 to the lowest level in the seven years for which data are available.

No Violations On Sales

Weems also reported in early January that all 17 retailers spot checked by the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office and state regulators had passed a compliance check.

The check consists of a person 19 or 20 years old attempting to purchase alcohol using a legitimate identification.

The first check is whether the retailer checks for an ID, and the second check is whether the retailer sells the alcohol.

All retailers passed, Weems said.

The county began the year with 18 outlets having licenses for the retail sale of beer and/or wine, nine restaurants with licenses for the sale of beer and/or wine by the drink, and one recreational club alcohol license.

Comparison Data

Weems also provided me with data from six neighboring counties to Oconee County for the period 2010 to 2014. All allow the sale of alcohol, though the rules differ in the six counties.

These data come from the respective courts in those jurisdictions handing DUI cases and were provided to Weems by the Georgia State Patrol in Athens.

In the chart below, the data have been standardized to reflect the differing population sizes of the seven counties.

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Oconee County has a much lower incidence of DUI cases per 1,000 population than does neighboring Clarke County, which is highly urbanized, and neighboring Oglethorpe County, which is largely rural.

Oconee County is roughly comparable to Walton, Barrow, and Jackson counties and lower than Morgan County in terms of DUI cases.

The count for Oconee County from the Georgia State Patrol of 528 cases from 2010 to 2014 was 36 cases higher than the count DeeDee Schaefer provided.

Data on DUI cases have been found to be differentially reported around the state.

Watkinsville Council

The Watkinsville Mayor and Council tomorrow night will give second reading to an ordinance that would allow for the sale of liquor by the drink in city restaurants. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

Council gave first reading to the ordinance last month, but only after amending a draft ordinance to set the ratio of food to alcohol at to 75/25. The draft ordinance prepared by the city attorney set that ratio at 60/40.

The action makes the ordinance under consideration consistent with the ordinance adopted by the Board of Commissioners in January. That ordinance affects only the unincorporated parts of the county.

In a referendum last month Watkinsville voters authorized the Council to pass an ordinance allowing for the issuance of licenses to sell liquor by the drink in city restaurants.

At present, Watkinsville has three restaurants. None of the county’s other three cities, Bishop, Bogart and North High Shoals, has any restaurants.

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