No more trips to jail for drunk drivers in Fresno

FRESNO, Calif.

A new written rule means a drunk driving offense will not likely end in handcuffs and a holding cell ... at least in the city of Fresno. It's not ideal, according to the police chief but a sign of these tough financial times.

Every weekend Fresno Police are out searching for impaired drivers and in the past, a DUI has meant at least a few hours behind bars.

Chief Jerry Dyer said, "Our most recent policy has been to book drunk drivers into jail because I feel that demonstrates immediate consequences."

Although sobering up confined has been a preferred method, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer says it's no longer cost effective to continue booking DUI drivers.

"This is strictly a financial decision, truly." Chief Dyer said.

We checked with other local law enforcement agencies to see what their standards of practice are: The California Highway Patrol and Fresno County Sheriff's Office generally arrests and books inmates. Visalia Police cite and release offenders to a sober, responsible party.

Fresno business owners Wes Burgess and Mike Carmack believe police pressure is changing habits of those who drink in Fresno.

One year ago they started "We Be Sober" a company that picks you and your car up and for $30.00 gives you a ride home. Now, they average 50 to 60 calls a week.

Mike Carmack said, "Business is going really good. When it started out, it was just Wes and I just sitting in a car waiting for a call and now it's just out of control. And it's consistent but it's also growing at the same time."

Fresno Police say the cite and release policy does have benefits. Officers will no longer be tied up driving offenders downtown and booking them, instead they will be able to hit the streets faster to find the next impaired driver.

Chief Dyer adds, "When you know you are going to book someone in the Fresno County Jail on a misdemeanor charge and that they are going to be released in an hour or two, it isn't wise for us to use our resources to take them out of service for an additional 45 minutes to an hour when we know there going to be cited out anyway."

Consistent efforts to stop drunk driving has many people pre-planning their night out according to Burgess and Carmack. While taking chances may not mean jail time, a DUI arrest can still amount to close to $10,000 in fees and fines.

Burgess said, "It's likely that if you are drinking and driving and being irresponsible, then you are going to get caught just because there is a major crackdown."

By switching to the 'no jail' standard, the police department expects to save anywhere from $150 to $180 thousand dollars. Now- under circumstances where a drunk driver is extremely intoxicated or unruly ... officers still have the option of taking them to jail.

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