By Travis Gibson tg*****@st*********.com
St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office deputies made five DUI arrests during a recent 12-hour shift in northeast St. Johns County.
If that sounds like a lot in a small window of time, that’s because it is. A look at recent trends shows it’s nothing new. Numbers show there has been a huge jump in the number of DUI arrests in St. Johns County compared to this time last year.
According to numbers provided to The Record by the Sheriff’s Office, there were 71 drivers arrested for driving under the influence by all area law enforcement agencies during April and May of 2018. Between April 1 and May 23 of 2019, there were 135 DUI arrests, according to the Sheriff’s Office, an increase of over 90 percent.
“This just goes to show how many impaired drivers are possibly on our roads on any given night,” said Sheriff’s Office spokesman Chuck Mulligan.
Mulligan said for his agency, which makes a majority of DUI arrests in the county, the increase in DUI arrests is largely because more deputies are out on the road. Between 2016 and 2018, Mulligan said, the Sheriff’s Office added 30 deputies with many of them hitting the roadways.
″[The increase in DUI arrests] are a great illustrator. These extra personnel are making this kind of a difference,” Mulligan said.
With more deputies on the roads, Mulligan said, deputies now have more time to look for possible crimes in progress, like burglaries or people driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach Police Departments have also made more DUI arrests over the same two month span when compared to last year. From Jan. 1 to May 24, the number of DUI arrests made by SABPD has increased by more than 116 percent in 2019 when compared to last year. In 2019, SAPD DUI arrests have gone up 50 percent between April 1 and May 23 when compared to last year.
SAPD spokeswoman Cici Aiple said the increase is not part of any official push by officers patrolling the streets.
“They are just on alert,” Aiple said, adding that SAPD has welcomed four officers in the past year. “We have a lot of proactive officers who are big on DUI arrests.”
Mulligan said during the busy Memorial Day Weekend, there will be even more deputies on the streets.
“We will have more people out than we have on a normal shift,” Mulligan said. “It’s a big day for driving and interstate travel.”
While Mulligan said the increase in DUI arrests is helping to get more impaired drivers off the roads, he is looking toward the future in a growing county.
“This effectiveness may be reduced as we add more people,” Mulligan said. “At some point, more personnel will be needed to maintain this and to continue to improve our responses to other crimes.”