Louisiana mulls statewide DWI tracking system

Published 11:15 am Monday, July 23, 2012

BATON ROUGE — The idea of creating a statewide system to track arrests for driving while intoxicated is gaining steam again.

The state Legislature recently requested that the mothballed Integrated Criminal Justice Information System policy board reconvene and report its progress to state lawmakers during the 2013 regular session.

Prosecutors, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Louisiana and others say a computer system that allows authorities to more easily verify previous DWI convictions and sentences across the state’s many court jurisdictions would be a strong weapon against repeat drunken-driving offenders.

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However prosecutors and anti-drunken-driving activists say other factors —such as uneven enforcement of DWI sentencing laws by judges and the social acceptance of driving after drinking — play roles in the problem of repeat offenders.

Alcohol-related crashes claimed 291 lives in Louisiana in 2011.

In Mississippi, arrests for driving under the influence — or any traffic violation — are tracked by driver’s license number, said Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace. The information is logged with the state’s Department of Public Safety.

Even in cases in which a driver is operating without a license, violations including DUI are logged in a “ghost record” that includes the driver’s name, date of birth and Social Security number, said Pace.

Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, said alcohol-related fatal crashes in Louisiana dropped from 439 in 2007 to 272 in 2011 while fatalities from those crashes plunged from 487 in 2007 to 291 last year.

“That’s a real good trend,” he said, but added that Louisiana is still above the national average in alcohol-related fatalities.

The board of the Integrated Criminal Justice Information System, chaired by Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Catherine “Kitty” Kimball, is scheduled to gather Aug. 7.

The board last met in 2004, when it awarded Baton Rouge technology company Thinkstream a $1.5 million contract — despite dissenting votes from Kimball and three other board members — to create a network linking the databases of some Louisiana criminal justice agencies.

But two months later, after a losing bidder’s appeal, then-Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc overturned the decision, ruling the board violated its own rules in awarding the contract to Thinkstream.