An article in Wednesday’s Oregonian raised an interesting question: how many Portlanders are aware that traffic enforcement does not take place overnight? According to the newspaper the city’s last budget cut police funding and, as a result, “the (traffic enforcement) bureau lost five full-time officer positions, and so eliminated the 9 pm to 7 am traffic shift Wednesday through Saturday.”
What this means in practice is that there are fewer officers available to enforce Oregon drunk driving laws. The newspaper quotes Portland police chief Mike Reese saying: “Traffic officers are committed to saving lives. They hold people accountable when they break the law… It’s not easy work. DUII investigations require skill to make arrests prosecutable.” The chief is asking the City Council for $300,000 in additional funds to restore four of the five overnight officer positions that have been lost.
While there are no available statistics looking at how fatal Oregon car crashes are distributed throughout the day, the newspaper notes that Washington State does keep such records. North of the Columbia River “60 percent of all fatal crashes occur between 7 pm and 5 am,” according to a Portland police spokesman cited by the newspaper. There is no reason to suppose that the pattern is not at least broadly similar here in Oregon.
It is also worth considering that if we do not have police on Portland’s streets to enforce our drunk driving laws during the overnight hours then there may be other aspects of this problem that are also failing to receive adequate attention. Under Oregon’s dram shop laws a restaurant or a shop selling alcoholic beverages can be held liable for the actions of a drunk driver if it served someone who was visibly intoxicated. These issues are often time sensitive, and are best investigated as soon as possible after an Oregon drunk driving accident takes place. That can’t happen when there are no traffic enforcement officers working the overnight shift.
This fact is a reminder of why it is so important that our courts are here to help Portland drunk driving victims obtain justice. DUII accidents are nearly always preventable. Avoiding them is, ultimately, a question of personal responsibility. Our courts are a key institution, ensuring that people are held accountable for their actions. The police are another such institution. As an Oregon DUII victims’ lawyer it is my job to work with law enforcement and other first responders in the wake of an accident to ensure that justice is served, regardless of what time of day the accident takes place.