OVI arrests down again in region, state; but trooper shortage may be cause

Highway Patrol arrests for intoxicated driving have declined 5 of 6 years, hit 15-year low in 2022

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The Ohio State Highway Patrol last year apprehended far fewer motorists for impaired driving both across the region and the state, as intoxicated driving arrests fell to the lowest level in many years, according to provisional agency data.

But the decrease in arrests doesn’t necessarily mean fewer motorists are driving while high or drunk — it could reflect a change in patrol enforcement activities at a time when the agency has fewer troopers on the roadways due to staffing challenges.

OVI stats

Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers arrested about 15,035 motorists for impaired driving in 2022, which was a nearly 20% decrease from 2021, according to provisional data.

Though the data is provisional, it is not expected to see significant revisions.

OVI arrests by the state patrol have declined in five of the last six years both locally and statewide.

Statewide, the only recent year when arrests for operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OVI) went up was 2021, with a rise of about 13%. But that’s largely because the previous year’s baseline had been the first year of the COVID pandemic, when people drove and traveled less, owing to stay-at-home orders.

State Patrol OVI arrests decreased by 3% in 2018, then by 15% in 2019, and 27% in 2020.

Impaired driving arrests last year dropped to their lowest level since at least 2007, and probably longer, according to the patrol’s statewide data. They were even lower than the 2020 COVID year.

Troopers last year made about 1,755 impaired driving arrests in Butler, Champaign, Clark, Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties last year — 555 fewer than in 2021.

OVI arrests fell 50% in Montgomery County, 38% in Miami County, 37% in Butler County, 23% in Greene County and 2% in Warren County.

Clark County had 565 arrests (down 4%) and Champaign County had three arrests, compared to 11 in 2021.

When OVI arrests declined across the state and the region in the past, some local defense attorneys told this newspaper they believed it did not mean people were getting high or drunk and driving less often.

They said they instead believed authorities weren’t pulling over and arresting as many suspected impaired motorists.

Behind the numbers

Staffing levels impact enforcement activities, and the Ohio State Highway Patrol has seen a reduction in its staffing in the last couple of years, said OSHP Sgt. Tyler Ross.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol retirement system had 1,454 covered employees in 2021, down from 1,668 three years earlier, according to an audit for 2021.

Lt. Nathan Dennis, a spokesman for the patrol, told Cleveland.com late last year that the agency was short about 250 troopers.

“The reality is that we’re down on the number of troopers we have out there,” Dennis told the news outlet. “We’re dealing with something that other law enforcement officials are facing.”

Other state patrol officials have recently said the agency wants to add about 200 more troopers to the payroll.

Last summer, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Public Safety announced an increase in troopers’ salaries and new signing bonuses for graduating cadets and retention bonuses for some employees.

The state patrol also adopted a new policy last fall that allows troopers to have visible tattoos if they can be covered with a long-sleeve shirt. The goal was to attract a diverse range of applicants.

Sgt. Ross said the patrol has seen an increase in applications.

Ross said the state patrol remains committed to removing dangerous, impaired motorists from the roadways, but the agency needs the public’s help to make good decisions and not get behind the wheel when drunk or high.

“We aim to change driving behaviors through education, enforcement and voluntary compliance so we don’t have to notify someone that their family member, loved one or friend was killed or seriously injured in a traffic crash,” he said.

Provisional patrol data suggest that Ohio had 618 OVI fatal crashes last year, down 5% from 2021. But that tally is likely to change since authorities are still waiting for some test results, and it’s likely that not all fatal crashes have been entered into the system yet.

OVI arrests by State Patrol

2018 — down 3%

2019 — down 15%

2020 — down 27%

2021 — up 13%

2022 — down 20%

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