With bars and restaurants closed for much of 2020 and more people staying home because of the governor’s stay-at-home orders, one might surmise that the number of DWI arrests would be down compared to 2019.

But that wasn’t the case in Douglas County.

In fact, the number of arrests made by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, which include both driving under the influence of alcohol and driving under the influence of drugs, was up nearly 42% – 129 in 2020 compared to 91 in 2019. And the same type of arrests made by the Alexandria Police Department was up nearly 76% – 86 in 2020 compared to 49 in 2019.

But interestingly, the total number of traffic stops for both the sheriff’s office and the police department was down.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

In 2019, deputies made 3,072 traffic stops while in 2020, there were 2,890 – a decrease of 6%. Police officers made 2,166 traffic stops in 2019 and 1,705 in 2020 – a decrease of 21%.

Here’s a look at how drug DWI’s compared to alcohol DWI’s for 2019 and 2020:

Drug DWI

Sheriff: 17 in 2019 and 30 in 2020 – 76% increase

Police: 9 in 2019 and 23 in 2020 – 155% increase

Alcohol DWI

Sheriff: 63 in 2019 and 59 in 2020 – 6% decrease

Police: 40 in 2019 and 63 in 2020 – 57% increase

Sgt. Brian Kakach with the Alexandria Police Department was a bit surprised by the numbers.

“I wasn’t expecting such an uptick,” Kakach said.

But he offered a reason: When people are bored, they find other things to do and many turn to drugs and alcohol. He also said that the pandemic caused an increase in mental health cases and that people self-medicated by not only taking too much of their prescription medications, but also illegal drugs, as well.

In addition, even though bars and restaurants weren’t open as much, people were still out and about driving. Kakach said police offices saw higher levels of intoxication in many of the people that were pulled over and he said there were more crashes.

Another interesting tidbit Kakach shared was the number of suspicious vehicle calls, which saw a 19% increase from 2019 (187 calls) to 2020 (223 calls).

If people suspect someone is driving under the influence, they should call 911 immediately, said Kakach.

Deputy Corey Sammons with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office agreed, saying motorists should report suspicious driving behavior immediately.

Sammons, who is a drug recognition evaluator for the sheriff’s office, has a passion for taking impaired drivers off the road. In fact, last year, he was named to the statewide DWI All-Star Team.

In 2020, Sammons himself had 57 DWI arrests, although the majority of those were for driving under the influence of a controlled substance, such as methamphetamine or heroin.

“With bars being closed or closing early for a large part of the year, alcohol-related DWIs were tougher to come by,” said Sammons, adding that drugs were more common and that it was easier to come across a driver under the influence of drugs than alcohol.

A trooper with the Minnesota State Patrol administers a sobriety test after pulling a driver over. (Echo Press illustration)
A trooper with the Minnesota State Patrol administers a sobriety test after pulling a driver over. (Echo Press illustration)

Both Kakach and Sammons provided tips for motorists who suspect a motorist might be driving under the influence.

Kakach said if possible, to follow the suspicious driver and to make note of the license plate number, along with the make, model and color of the vehicle.

Sammons said to also note if there are any distinct factors, such as damage to the vehicle. He said the more information a person is able to relay to the 911 dispatcher the better chance for law enforcement officers to find the vehicle and pull the driver over.

Both Kakach and Sammons said that people who call in suspicious driving behavior can do so anonymously. Although Kakach said it helps if people are willing to give their name and provide a statement.

If officers don’t see the violation, it is harder to do anything about it unless something is on record via a statement from the person who observed it.

Sammons aid citizen tips are very beneficial to law enforcement agencies and that people should never be afraid to call in suspicious driving behavior.

Statewide speeding incidents up

Across the state, the amount of drivers cited for speeding over 100 mph doubled from 2019 to 2020, according to data from the Minnesota State Patrol.

“Too often we see crashes from distracted or impaired driving where speed turns a minor crash into a fatal or life-changing event for those involved,” said Mike Hanson, director of the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety, in a statement. “We all need to drive smart by going the speed limit or driving to the conditions of the road, especially in the winter. If we all do our part, we can get home safely to our families at the end of the day.”

The highest recorded individual speeding ticket for 2020 occurred in October where a driver was clocked going 153 mph, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

In an effort to reduce traffic crashes, injuries and deaths, Minnesota law enforcement agencies concluded their extra speed enforcement campaign on Feb. 1 and cited 7,252 drivers for speeding over the course of one month.

“We are very frustrated and appalled by the lack of compliance to Minnesota speed limits by some drivers in our state,” said Col. Matt Langer, chief of the Minnesota State Patrol, in a released statement. “Traveling above the speed limit, especially more than 100 mph, is unacceptable and puts the lives of everyone around you in danger. If you speed, expect our troopers to stop you and cite you with a ticket. Our hope is that motorists heed our warning and slow down!”

Traffic fatalities on Minnesota roads increased 38% in 2020, compared to 2019, according to Minnesota Department of Public Safety statistics.

Langer said each State Patrol district in Minnesota will have extra, speed-focused enforcement for the next several months. Drivers can expect to see troopers looking for speeders at any time on any state highway, or interstate.

Reporter Michael Achterling, Detroit Lakes Tribune, contributed to this article.