Ask anyone involved in law enforcement about the reasons why so much time, money and manpower are devoted to looking for and apprehending Oklahoma drunk drivers, and the first answer that you will likely receive will relate to the need for public safety. Which is true enough, as far as it goes. But is keeping the public roadways safe the only motivation? Or can another, less altruistic consideration also involved — namely, money?

Recent developments in the state of New Mexico offer a glimpse into how funding considerations tie in closely with safety when it comes to DUI and DWI enforcement — and can, in some cases, even overshadow safety concerns.

County sheriff’s departments that believe they are unable to cope with enforcement problems because of a lack of funding can, and do seek federal assistance to make up the shortfall. These funds come with strings attached: they can only be used for the purpose they were allocated for. In the New Mexico case at hand, a county sheriff’s department believed that it was unequal to the task of policing against drunk drivers, so it sought and received federal money in the amount of approximately $400,000 to pay for an additional prosecutor, task force coordinator and for overtime pay for deputies.

But just as federal programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are plagued with problems of government employees’ mishandling of funds, so, too can any other form of federal assistance offer temptations for misuse. Large amounts of “Other people’s money” can lead to inappropriate diversions of funds and a, “Who’s going to know?” rationalization process. Even a county law enforcement department is not necessarily immune. In the case of the New Mexico county sheriff’s department the state Auditor is now investigating it based on allegations that the federal funds were not allocated as they should have been.

Some of the takeaways from this news story are:

  • Money is a substantial driver of how any government agency or program operates. How to get it, and how to keep it coming, can often be at least as important as the underlying reasons given for needing it in the first place.
  • No government institution can claim complete immunity from fiscal corruption, or at least the temptation to engage in it. Even law enforcement organizations are susceptible.
  • Misuse of government money is a serious matter, and if proven can have consequences that resonate far beyond any requirement to repay misallocated funds. In the case of the sheriff’s department in New Mexico, not only may the federal government seek restitution, and not only may anyone connected to such abuse be subject to prosecution, but  going forward it may be impossible for the department to qualify for such monies again.

This story has the potential to become a “Rags to riches to rags again” morality tale: a sheriff’s department having trouble with a widespread drunk driving problem seeks and receives outside financial help; at first everyone seems to benefit, but before long one or more people give in to the temptation to spend the largesse in ways it was not intended for; the scheme is discovered, the money dries up, and everyone is left back where they started — or worse.

The story above does not mean that all law enforcement agencies, departments and personnel are inclined toward or otherwise vulnerable to corruption. But it may not be unique to New Mexico, either. Although police, sheriffs and deputies may be entrusted with protecting public safety, that does not always mean that their own trustworthiness should simply be accepted without question.

It boils down to a simple fact….DUIs are big business and big money for those involved.  There are police officers that match their yearly salary in DUI overtime pay.  In Oklahoma City, the officers are paid two hours overtime for a 15-30 minute telephone hearing.  There had been a big push in Oklahoma recently for the ENDUI campaign……how do you think this was funded?  The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety collects money (approximately $319) for license reinstatements as well as $175 for modified license.  This is in addition to the $150 they collect from the criminal case court costs which is collected on each and every Oklahoma DUI charge.  In Oklahoma, if you kill someone, the court costs average approximately $275 for felony murder as well as other felonies.  However, a misdemeanor DUI charge carries court costs averaging $900.  After all, they can afford to pay and who is going to complain about taxing a drunk driver?  The District Attorney makes money from federal grant money as well as every person that is place on probation as they collect $40 a month in probation fees.  I also make a very comfortable living off defending DUI cases as it is expensive to keep up with the new tactics and science behind defending those citizens accused of drinking and driving and are then cast into the system that is stacked against them.  The difference is that I protect you and fight for you.

If you or a loved one as been charged with DUI or APC, call us today at 405-231-5600 for your free consultation.  At the consultation, you will also receive a free copy of the Oklahoma DUI Survival Guide, A Citizen’s Protection Manual (3rd ed) written by John Hunsucker and Bruce Edge.