Across the state of Wisconsin, there is an issue with OWI's, however in West Allis they've made an improvement; albeit, a small one.
The West Allis Police Department released some statistics for 2017 OWI arrests. In total, they arrested 693 people for OWI, a 2.5 percent decrease from 2016 (711). Of those, 464 were first time offenders (67 percent) and the rest were arrested for a repeat offense between their second and eighth incident.
It's something the West Allis Police Department looks at optimistically, though they think it is deeper than just drinking and driving.
"These individuals have been through the system," said Deputy Chief Bob Fletcher with West Allis. "They've had treatment, faced punishment but the allure of the alcohol or drug is bringing them back and putting them behind the wheel of the car. Those are very troubling things. The good news, when you see most are first offenses, hopefully people make the mistake and learn there are other options."
Fletcher acknowledges these OWI arrests aren't all alcohol-related but couldn't say the split between alcohol and drug-related OWIs. But the statistics they breakdown for alcohol-related OWIs are staggering.
The people arrested ranged in age from 17 to 69 years old with an average age of 34. The average Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) was .15, nearly twice the legal limit. The highest they arrested was .39.
But what may come across as an extremely high number is where these residents are from. Sixty-eight percent of those arrested are from somewhere other than West Allis.
Police attribute that to the number of thoroughfares that cut right through the city as well as the abundance of food and bar establishments in the area. Plus, add in the Wisconsin State Fair and the vicinity to Miller Park, and a lot of people are drinking and driving through West Allis.
"I think it's a sign that we're a mobile society. People don't go to their corner bar anymore," Fletcher said. "It's something we've been working hard on for a long time but it continues to be a problem in West Allis, Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin. Somebody that chooses to get behind the wheel of a car, and that is what it is, a choice. When they're impaired by either alcohol or drugs, it puts the rest of the motoring public and pedestrians at risk. It causes a threat to everyone on the road."
Fletcher says people are more aware of drunk driving during big "drinking holidays" of the year, like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve and St. Patrick's Day. He says those days actually result in fewer drunk driving charges because folks are more likely to find a safe way home. He hopes people remember on those random Saturdays in the Spring and Fall to do the same thing.
"There is really no pattern when it comes to that," Fletcher said. "People have to be aware all times of the year and drive safely."
Bars are just as interested in lowering the OWI rate in the state too.
"OWI is detrimental to the bar industry," said Robert Lucas, Owner of Slurp-N-Burp in West Allis. "Whatever we can do to mitigate some of the OWI issues and problems, that's beneficial for us and the industry. The Safe Ride program is the greatest tool we have to do that."
Safe Ride is a program run by the Tavern League of Wisconsin which provides free vouchers for bar-goers to get a safe ride home. Lucas says they give out about 20 to 30 $25 vouchers to patrons each month. The money is reimbursed to the bars themselves and gets residents home safely.
"I'd hate to feel I was responsible or any staff were responsible for getting someone so drunk they went outside and hurt themselves or anyone else," Lucas said.
Lucas is a licensed bartender in the state. He and other licensed bartenders pass a course where they can spot someone who has had too much to drink to prevent patrons from drinking too much. However, police say it's up to the choice of the people to drive or not when they've been drinking.
"We can do stuff," Fletcher said. "Bars can do things, but it's the personal choice an individual makes."