Fatalities resulting from driving while impaired are on the rise in Kansas City this year.
Sgt. Chris Bentch, the DUI section supervisor at the Kansas City Police Department, said there have been 17 impaired-driving fatalities through July 6. There were 11 such deaths during the same period of 2016.
The 2017 figure is expected to climb though, Bentch said, because there are still nine pending toxicology reports from the first half of this year tied to vehicular fatalities. Bentch estimated that more than 95 percent of such reports typically come back positive for a substance.
In addition, there’s been a nearly 50 percent increase in all driving-related fatalities in the first half of 2017 versus the same time frame last year.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
The uptick occurs after a transfer of state funding away from sobriety checkpoints to saturation patrols by the Missouri Legislature.
“These numbers were already trending in the wrong direction before (the funding shift),” Bentch said. “Now we just lost state funding for one of our tools to deter impaired drivers.”
Missouri House Budget Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, a Shell Knob Republican, supported the transfer of federal funds away from checkpoints, saying saturation patrols are more cost-effective because they cost less per DUI arrest at the statewide scale.
“Part of budgeting is to do things that are most effective for the amount of money we’re spending,” Fitzpatrick said.
But with the funding shift, KCPD now has about $60,000 for saturation patrols for the rest of this fiscal year, yet the department already has fully funded such efforts. Bentch said he is unsure how to use the excess funds designated only for saturation patrols.
“Sixty thousand dollars is what I have left over,” he said. “The personnel used to conduct these two types of operations are not the same, so I can’t utilize the same people working the checkpoints for saturation patrols due to their assignments, availability of cars and scheduling.”
Fitzpatrick said agencies were given notice of the funding change. They had through June to continue using state funds for checkpoints.
“If (KCPD) had $60,000, they could have used it,” he said. “They could have had a checkpoint bonanza from May to June.”
KCPD made 265 DUI arrests in the 19 checkpoints it conducted last year. It made 45 such arrests in 42 saturation patrols. Bentch said the cost per arrest is slightly higher for checkpoints.
Statewide, the cost per arrest for saturation patrols in fiscal years 2014–2016 was $704. For checkpoints, it was $919, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Fitzpatrick said KCPD and other law enforcement agencies can continue conducting checkpoints with internal funding.
KCPD will conduct three more checkpoints through the fall. After that point, it’s unclear if the department will continue funding them internally.
“By then we’ll have a new chief and further guidance about where we’ll go as a department about this issue,” Bentch said.