A lack of consistent, countywide commitment to the arrest and prosecution of drunk drivers has inhibited efforts to stem the problem, according to the Prince George's Task Force on Drunk Driving.
The task force released a report to County Executive Lawrence Hogan last week detailing problems that police, local courts, the penal system and county rehabilitation programs have in coordinating a response to drunken drivers. Among the conclusions:
County police do not consistently pursue suspected drunk drivers because of the time it takes to arrest and prosecute them, as well as their feeling that "it's not a priority within the department," said task force member and county police officer Kenneth Cutlip.
"A lot of officers don't like to work traffic and the other 50 percent do -- they're really gung-ho about it," Cutlip said. "But sometimes an officer feels guilty if he takes the time to arrest a drunk or stop a speeder while another officer may have to answer, say, an armed robbery on his own because he's not there."
* Prosecutors often fail to prepare drunk driving cases adequately.
* District Court judges do not always have adequate information to convict or sentence a drunk driver. Judges may have to rely too heavily on breathalizer tests because police often do not provide additional evidence of intoxication from the scene of the arrest. Moreover, according to Judge Francis Borelli, a task force member, records of previous drunk driving arrests are not highlighted in court records.
The task force, which included government officials, police, judges, behavior experts and representatives from citizens' groups, recommended a number of administrative and legal changes to enhance local enforcement of drunk driving prohibitions. The 13-member group recommended the creation of a separate police unit to investigate and pursue traffic-related crimes, including drunk driving.
"We want it and we need it," Cutlip said.
The group recommended further that judges be apprised of records of multiple offenders and provided with a "victim impact" statement at the time of sentencing.
"In court the defendant has all his family and friends and his three-pieced suit -- nice guy -- he's just an unfortunate who happens to be there," said Dot Sexton, a task force member whose son was killed by a drunk driver in July 1980. "The judge has no idea what's happened to the family. I say it's only fair that the judge have the views of both sides before he makes his decision."
Citizen representatives on the task force, which was convened by Hogan in August, also advocated raising the age for buying all types of alcohol to 21, and noted that the highest percentage of drunk driving arrests occurs among 18- and 19-year-olds.
The task force will meet again in six months to evaluate recommendations that have been implemented, according to its chairman, Hogan aide Wilbert Wilson.