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On Monday night, the West Hollywood City Council received the city’s public safety update for the last six months, and approved recommendations for public safety priorities. The priorities included efforts to “mitigate impacts from nighttime establishments” and “monitor and adjust traffic enforcement deployment as needed to assess speeding vehicles, driving while using cell phones, bicycles on sidewalks, and other traffic violations.”
Yet, despite the focus on nightlife and traffic, any mention of drunk driving remained largely absent from the report.
The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) has not yet released figures for 2009, but in 2008, when adjusted for population, West Hollywood ranked fourth from the bottom in total fatal traffic injuries and fatalities (312) among 97 cities of its size, second highest in alcohol-related collisions (47), and first in hit and runs (33) and nighttime collisions (62). The city’s rankings were slightly better when adjusted for daily vehicle miles traveled through the city, instead of population.
“What that says is that West Hollywood, at least when you’re looking at it by populations and to a certain extent by daily vehicle miles traveled, has problems,” said Chris Cochran, spokesperson for OTS. “What that stems from is something they have to look at themselves locally. They’re number two in alcohol-related collisions. If they have a lot of bars and nightlife, maybe a lot of people are in from other locations, or people who live there are coming in their cars.”
With 139 arrests for driving while under the influence of alcohol (DUI) in 2008, West Hollywood ranked 48th out of 96 similar-sized cities. Figures for 2009 were similar, with 137 DUI arrests in West Hollywood. As a percentage of licensed drivers arrested for DUI—a statistic OTS uses as a “measure of enforcement activity,” this figure puts West Hollywood slightly below the state average. In addition, more than half of West Hollywood DUI arrests came subsequent to a collision. From July to December in 2009, 2,294 more traffic citations were issued than during the same months the year before, but there were 17 fewer DUI arrests and 17 fewer DUI traffic collision investigations.
“DUI is something that’s always there,” said Kristin Cook, public safety manager for the city. “That area has not been neglected. These are our recommendations for the next six months, but that doesn’t preclude our regular policing efforts over that period.”
Still, DUI arrests in West Hollywood pale in comparison to arrests in neighboring Hollywood, which includes a similar mix of nightlife and residential areas. In the area bounded by Franklin Avenue to the north, Melrose Avenue to the south, LaBrea Avenue to the west, and Normandie Avenue to the east, which is about twice as large as West Hollywood’s 1.9 square miles, more than 1,100 DUI arrests were made in 2009, according to the Los Angeles Police Department’s West Traffic Division.
In addition, on December 31, 2009, the Los Angeles Police Department set up an unannounced sobriety checkpoint on Sunset Boulevard at the corner of Crescent Heights Bouelvard, just east of the West Hollywood city line and the Sunset Strip entertainment area, and made 10 arrests. This is more than twice as many drunk drivers as most checkpoints apprehend, according to California Avoid, a statewide law enforcement coalition that helps fund DUI checkpoints.
The City of West Hollywood did not have any sobriety checkpoints in 2009, and only 10 DUI arrests were made in the city during the entire month of December.
“Sunset Boulevard has a very high number of traffic collisions in all categories, and a very significant number of DUI collisions,” said Capt. Nancy Lauer, of the LAPD’s West Traffic Division. “There is also a very high number of hit-and-runs on Sunset, and we think many of those are DUI-related, because people don’t want to stop to identify themselves if they’ve been drinking. We also have an issue with pedestrians who have been drinking crossing in front of cars.”
Lt. Dave Smith of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station, who visited the LAPD officers conducting the December 31 checkpoint, said that setting up a sobriety checkpoint in West Hollywood would be logistically very difficult.
“It’s tough to set up a checkpoint because of the location,” Smith said. “Sunset is very busy with cars, and you need a parking lot to be able to pull people into. There are rules about proper escape routes for cars, and a lot of it has to do with the congestion that we have in the city already, because people can’t build up a lot of speed.”
West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tempore, John Heilman, said he was not familiar with the OTS statistics on traffic safety, which he said the city should look into.
“We know that drunk driving is a recurrent concern,” Heilman said. “We have a lot of establishments in the city that serve alcohol and a lot of people who come to West Hollywood to enjoy the nightlife, so drunk driving is certainly a problem in any community like ours where you have a large influx of people who are coming to nightclubs. It’s not something that the Sheriff’s Department or the city council ignores. We do annual events that have to do with drunk driving, but it’s probably something that we need to ask the Sheriffs to include in future reports.”
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