Some police reporting fewer DUIs in once dry cities
LEESBURG - AL — Many people believe alcohol is one of society's ills. A wet vote has yet to be taken in this state without arguments about alcohol sales leading to more drunk drivers, more violence and more alcoholism. But several police departments say it's actually made cities safer.The sides of Alabama's roads and highways are dotted with crosses."All you have to do is work one accident where a family's life has been shattered with an alcohol related death," said Leesburg Police Chief Lanny Ransum.Ransum says the accidents stay with him. But police are responding to fewer now."We've had a decrease in DUIs. I think it's because of the availability of alcohol," he said.People in Leesburg no longer have to drive out of Cherokee County to buy alcohol. Now, they can grab a six pack at a gas station or store. Since the city went wet in 2011, the chief estimates DUIs are down by 60 to 70 percent."I'd like to say it was enforcement that caused the decrease. But my opinion was with the availability of alcohol in Leesburg, the violators aren't having to travel as far to buy their alcohol. They're getting their alcohol and going home or going wherever they are going and not riding," said Ransum.ABC 33/40 contacted 13 cities that made the decision to go wet since 2009. Only four returned calls. Carbon Hill's police chief says DUIs are down. Dora hasn't seen any change, and Hanceville's Police Department says DUIs increased when nearby Cullman okayed sales in 2011. But those numbers went down once Hanceville started selling a year later.None of the departments reported any problems with underage drinking, public intoxication or domestic violence stemming from the availability of alcohol.But more people are seeking treatment for alcohol addiction at the Lighthouse in Cullman."There's always people seeking treatment. It's going up. I'm seeing a lot of people," said Lighthouse director Larry Cox.Cox says there are now 70 people on a waiting list for the 12 bed facility. But he attributes some of the demand to changes in the healthcare system and other rehab programs closing."An alcoholic is going to find something to drink no matter what. Making it readily available- usually it's not the problem," he said.And the availability of alcohol doesn't appear to create problems for Leesburg police."Since we've been wet, we don't have the drunks walking up and down the street," said Ransum.Alcohol sales have always been controversial in Alabama. The state was entirely dry for 22 years until prohibition ended in 1937. Since then, voters keep weighing in on the issue. For those in Cullman, they've gone to the polls at least six times since 1984. Some people want to vote again. This time, it would be on making Cullman dry again.