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What we think: Strong DUI report sets standard for drugs

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By The Staff

If you believe that statistics don’t lie – and even the most circumspect among us surely do to some extent – then you have to be amazed at the recent report on Shelby County’s efficiency in disposing of DUI cases.

That better than 92 percent of those charged were convicted during a 4-year period is a significant statement both to those who consider driving after drinking and for those who make sure such drivers are caught when they do.

As Shelby County Sheriff Mike Armstrong said in discussing this tabulation by the Kentucky State Police, “Around here, we take drunk driving seriously.”

Sheriff Armstrong’s comment is especially broad-reaching when you consider that the great percentage of those listed in the published police arrest reports each week typically have something to do with vehicular stops or alcohol or drug involvement.

But it’s also a statement that we believe brings with it a challenge that must be addressed.

As strong as that record is – and all involved deserve our profound praise – we think there is a more difficult imperative to be seized: We must curtail the distribution of illegal drugs in our county.

With DUI, as the report cited, convicting someone isn’t that difficult. Most cases result in a guilty plea. Breathalyzer and blood-alcohol-test levels seldom fail in court. And in any event, fighting the charges is far more expensive for most people than paying the fine.

All those factors help push efficiently through our judicial system.

We recognize that’s not quite so simple with drug-related offenses, but we sure would like to see that same sort of batting average for those crimes, particularly for cultivation and sales.

State Senate candidate Paul Hornback said recently that he thinks Shelby County has a marijuana problem and that many farmers are being victimized by the cultivation of that drug. He’s correct.

But we all are being victimized and by many drugs stronger and more devastatingly dangerous than marijuana. You know their names as surely as we do: cocaine, heroin, crack, meth and many other narcotics.

DUI is a widespread problem that could traumatically affect a life at any time, but we aren’t blind to the fact that so many more crime reports deal with significant drug issues.

Possession of drugs with paraphernalia and for sales are plagues that must be eradicated from our community. We realize no area is immune to such, but we think our case numbers seem to be greater than they should be.

Only so many good examples by parents, strong messages in the schools and outreach by churches can stop these problems before they invade our families.

Freedoms and influences have multiplied so rapidly in the past few years that young people are sadly more likely than they were to make poor choices.

But as a society, we have to crack down on those who make bad choices and make them examples for their decisions. Repeat offenders need more severe reprisals.

We always are amazed to read the police and court reports each week and see so many people charged and sentenced in drug-related crimes. We see many of them as repeat offenders. We see many of them get probated sentences.

As citizens, we can accept probation and substance-abuse treatment for first-time offenders, but we don’t want to see that be the outcome for more serious and repeat offenses.

We want that conviction rate to be as high as those for DUI, if not higher, and we want the penalties to be swift and firm.

Overwhelmed dockets and overcrowded jails don’t help in this effort. There is pressure to move people through the system and to try to limit jail time whenever possible. We understand that. Probation and early release are both realities.

And we know our law enforcement officials and judges are just as bothered by this as we are.

This outstanding DUI report shows us how effective our system can be, and it also sets a standard for us as a community to aspire to:

Let’s punish 92 percent of those arrested for drug sales. That would be sending an even stronger message that Shelby County is not the place to do such business.

And we would have even more reason to celebrate.