A Clinton bar owner who’s also the village’s chamber of commerce president says he’s not opposed to the police enforcing drunken driving laws, but he thinks local police are being overzealous in traffic enforcement.
Sorry, Tim Pogorelski, but you can’t have it both ways.
Deterring drunken driving starts with police officers enforcing traffic laws, watching for drivers rolling through stop signs, drifting across the center line, operating with burn-out taillights. Looking the other way is akin to tolerating drunken driving, and that’s unacceptable in this age.
More than 150 people turned out for a meeting in Clinton last week about a controversy over police pulling over drivers for supposedly minor infractions. The owner of an antiques store, Steve Bailey, even claimed his business has dropped by 95 percent as a result.
From Bailey’s description, you’d think Clinton has turned into Singapore, where a person can get fined for spitting in public or a two-year prison term for selling gum.
No, Clinton hasn’t become Singapore. Rather, Clinton police officers have stopped ignoring infractions. The officers are doing their jobs, though previous laxness creates the appearance of a crackdown.
Village Board President Connie Tracy correctly summed up the situation in an interview with The Gazette: “The problem is, Clinton let things go too long. I’ve lived here all my life, and there was a time they were told, ‘Don’t pull anybody over. We don’t want to upset anybody.’”
We applaud Police Chief David Hooker for enforcing the law, though it feels odd to single out a police chief for doing his job. Hooker has acknowledged enforcement was lax in previous years, and younger officers who replaced retirees are no longer turning the other way. That we feel a need to defend Hooker and these new officers speaks to the absurdity of the complaints against them. Pogorelski, Bailey and others seem to have naive notions about how law enforcement should operate.
According to Hooker, the number of intoxicated driving arrests have risen from 12 last year to 18 so far this year. Even fewer arrests were made in previous years, and therein lies Pogorelski’s problem. He might deny his criticism is about drunken driving arrests, but who is this bar owner kidding? Of course this about drunken driving arrests and the likelihood that some of Pogorelski’s patrons either don’t visit his bar now or don’t drink as much as they might have during the days of lax enforcement.
Bars are in the business of selling intoxicating beverages, and it only takes a few drinks for a person to be driving with blood-alcohol levels above the legal limit. This dilemma extends far beyond the village of Clinton. Every city, town and village is grappling with a seismic shift in the public’s attitude toward drunken driving. We’ve experienced too many deaths and have seen too many lives destroyed because too many people have decided to drive under the influence.
Last week, for example, came the story of a Footville man arrested on suspicion of his eighth drunken-driving offense 19 years after injuring a local man in a drunken-driving crash.
While we empathize with bar owners struggling to figure out how to operate in an age of increasing intolerance toward drunken driving, we contend that state and local governments must work to combat drunken driving.
Someday, we suspect, people will look back at these times and wonder in bewilderment: How is it possible that someone could rack up eight drunken-driving arrests? How is it possible that we permitted such egregious assaults on public safety?
Hooker and his force in Clinton have the right approach to law enforcement. They represent a safer future, while Pogorelski and his allies belong to the past.