Survey: One in 7 of state's nighttime drivers under the influence of drugs
by Susan Abram
Sometimes, they come through DUI checkpoints smoking a joint.
"They'll say, I've got a medical card," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy Sgt. Philip Brooks, of the drivers who get stopped.
"And we'll say, that doesn't matter. Smoke that at home and don't drive."
While they don't all come through checkpoints smoking marijuana, an increased number of motorists are getting caught driving drugged. It's happening at DUI checkpoints on curved roads through Malibu's canyons and it's happening across the state.
"Half of those caught are impaired due to drugs," said Brooks of the Malibu/Lost Hills Station.
"It's hard to say, but the biggest problem right now is medical marijuana," he added. "People seem to think it's a legal substance."
Statewide, one in seven weekend nighttime drivers was found to be under the influence of drugs, according to a recent survey released by the California Office of Traffic Safety.
Of the 1,300 drivers stopped at checkpoints statewide who voluntarily submitted to a breath and/or saliva sample, 7.4 percent tested positive for marijuana and 14 percent for some type of drug, while 7.3 percent tested positive for alcohol, according to the survey.
And, of those positive hits for alcohol, 23 percent also tested positive for at least one drug.
More than a quarter of those drivers who tested positive for marijuana also tested positive for at least one other drug, according to the study.
The results were culled from information taken at checkpoints set up in nine different cities during August and September of this year.
"This federally funded survey is the first of its kind ever undertaken by a state," said Christopher Murphy, director of the Office of Traffic Safety, in a statement. "These results reinforce our belief that driving after consuming potentially impairing drugs is a serious and growing problem."
Because it's the first survey of its kind in California, it's difficult to know if there has been an increase in impaired driving, state officials said. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) 2007 National Roadside Survey found that one in eight weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for an illicit drug.
Anecdotally, local law enforcement officials say they too stop more drivers under the influence of everything from cocaine to pot, Vicodin to NyQuil.
"We're not just talking about illegal drugs, but it could be over the counter or prescription," said CHP Officer Leland Tang of the West Hills station.
"They're both equally dangerous," he said of those who drink and drive or use drugs because, "they are both under the mind-set that they are OK to drive."
A new law that begins on Jan. 1 will help CHP officers and law enforcement file DUI arrests in separate categories: alcohol or drugs.
Signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, Assembly Bill 2552 will distinguish the offenses of driving under the influence of alcohol, driving under the influence of any drug, and driving under the combined influence of alcohol and any drug.
The categories will help law enforcement gather better data, determine the scope of the problem, help shape policies and laws, and craft better prevention efforts, Tang and others said.
"It's good for us because, prior to AB 2552, there was no way to quantify if someone was driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combo," Tang said. "With data, we can go to apply for national grants and get special grants to focus on more education. We really need to target the message that this is dangerous behavior."
When AB 2552 was first introduced in March, cannabis activists worried that police would hand out violations to anyone who had any trace of marijuana in the bloodstream, including medical marijuana users who may have used pot days before. Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, who introduced AB 2552, amended the bill to create different categories for drug and alcohol-related DUIs.
With the new law set to roll out, the Office of Traffic Safety and the CHP also will work together to expand programs that will train more officers to become drug recognition experts.
"We will still do the field sobriety test, and going from there, we may call a drug recognition expert," Tang said.
Alcohol-impaired fatalities among vehicle or motorcycle drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 grams per deciliter or greater has dropped by 14 percent from 924 in 2009 to 791 in 2010. The 2010 figure is the lowest DUI death total ever, according to national figures.
But Tang said as the massive baby boomer generation ages, more of them may be driving under the influence of prescription drugs. That's why an increase in prevention needs to start now, he said.
For now, just the fact that fatalities continue to occur is troubling, Sheriff's Sgt. Brooks said.
"We've had fatalities in Malibu and surrounding areas, by some using illicit drugs and and others abusing pharmaceuticals."
Across the San Fernando Valley, the number of DUI arrests has remained relatively consistent in recent years. So far this year, there have been 2,888 arrests. In all of last year, there were 3,596 total arrests, said LAPD Detective Bill Bustos of the Valley Traffic Division. He said those include arrests of motorists who also were abusing drugs, and the number will likely exceed 3,000 before the year is over.
Bustos said his department is gearing up for a campaign targeting New Year's Eve and drinking and driving. From Thanksgiving until New Year's Day, DUIs are more common.
"We're going the right direction," Bustos said of prevention efforts. "But we have a long way to go before we're satisfied."
1 out of 5 Ohio fires attributed to arson
State sees opposite of national trend
by Jessie Balmert
Revenge, insurance fraud, excitement. Whatever the reason, arson caused one of every five fires reported in Ohio in 2011, far higher than the national average.
Arsons reported to the state fire marshal's office increased dramatically between 2005 and 2006 — a jump of about 33 percent and more than 2,000 intentionally-set fires — even as the total number of fires was decreasing, according to state fire marshal's office figures. Since 2006, arsons have not changed more than 8 percent in a given year.
State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers attributes the spike, in part, to a broader definition of arson implemented by the National Fire Administration around that time. However, national figures on arson did not experience a similar jump, according to National Fire Protection Association numbers.
Ohio firefighters reported 8,043 arsons in 2011, nearly 20 percent of all fires recorded for the year. This is the highest percentage of fires caused by arson since at least 1987. In 1999, arsons accounted for 8 percent of Ohio's 63,835 fires, according to state statistics.
Investigators also have seen more suspects using arson to conceal other crimes, such as homicide, Flowers said.
In October 2011, Harry Smith, 89, of Ross County, was found dead after firefighters extinguished flames at his house on Ohio 772; further investigation revealed he died of blunt force trauma to the head.
An 18-year-old man was sentenced to 14 years in prison for setting fire to a Marion County strip mall and damaging several businesses with an accomplice to cover up a break-in and theft in December 2011.
A growing portion of Ohio's fire fatalities are being reported as arsons, according to state statistics. In 2011, more than two-thirds of Ohio's fire fatalities were the result of arsons, compared to 12 percent of fire deaths 10 years ago and 6 percent of fire deaths 20 years ago, according to state fire marshal's office data.
The number of arsons likely is higher than the state reports, Chillicothe Fire Assistant Chief Steve Gallagher said. Intentionally set fires tend to be misclassified or left under investigation because of destroyed evidence or swamped investigators, he added.
“A lot of fires not aggressively investigated may turn out to arson,” Gallagher said.
As accidental fires decline with improved building construction and education, it makes sense arsons would become a larger portion of overall fires, Lancaster Assistant Fire Chief Jack Mattlin said.
Statistics, particularly in small jurisdictions, easily are skewed by a string of arsons. It's a trend Mansfield firefighters know all too well.
The department has extinguished 47 suspicious structure and vehicle fires since June 13; investigators suspect the fires, located in two parts of town, were set by more than one person, Mansfield Fire Chief John Harsch said.
Figures in Lancaster rose from 15 arsons in 2010 to 26 in 2011 after firefighters say they linked more than half to a man who is awaiting sentencing for arson and other crimes, Mattlin said.
Eleven arsons have been reported so far this year, he added.
Sen. Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, said he hopes a bill he sponsored to create a state registry for convicted arsonists will make identification of repeat offenders easier. The proposed legislation passed the Ohio House of Representatives on Wednesday and is awaiting senators' review of changes before it heads to Gov. John Kasich.
Schaffer said the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters asked him for a registry to improve conviction rates for arsons, which are difficult to prove because of destroyed evidence and delays in investigation.
“If they move within state, we might better track them if we have a similar type of fire,” Newark Fire Investigator Tim Smith said.
In fall 2009, a man set fire to several vacant properties in the city, Smith said.
If serial arsonists move, it would be helpful to monitor those individuals, he added.
Flowers said he supports the bill, which will give investigators “another tool in the tool box,” but recidivism is low for those convicted of arson.
State investigators could not remember the last time they had a repeat arsonist, Flowers added.
Reason to burn
Although confessions, like convictions, are uncommon in arson cases, investigators have determined some common causes of intentionally set fires.
Especially during the winter, people will break into vacant properties and set fires to stay warm, Marion Fire Chief Ralph Zwolle said.
Other fire-setters might be unaware of what they are doing. Firefighters recently found a person burning a curtain with a light bulb, Zwolle said.
Zanesville Fire Chief Kevin Thomas said domestic disputes also can result in property damage. Someone might set fire to a vehicle or structure for revenge, he said.
Gallagher, of the Chillicothe Fire Department, said the economic downturn affected the number of fires set, but state and national numbers don't support that claim.
Nearly 9,000 arsons were reported in Ohio in 2008, the highest figure in more than 20 years. But that only was a slight increase from 2007. Nationwide, arson decreased between 2007 and 2008, according to National Fire Protection Association figures.
When finances are tight, people who are strapped for money might turn to arson for profit — burning down a building to obtain insurance money. The offense does happen, but it is not widespread, Flowers said.
Insurance companies have special investigation units that look into suspicious claims, said Mitch Wilson, a spokesman for the Ohio Insurance Institute.
“If they have intentionally set the fire, there is no coverage. Period,” Wilson said.
Budget cuts have limited the number of people available to investigate suspicious fires.
Coshocton Fire Department is down to two investigators after positions were eliminated through retirements, fire prevention officer Jeff Corder said. Lancaster Fire Department closed its arson investigation bureau a year ago, which means investigators cannot focus exclusively on checking the causes of fires, Mattlin said.
“It makes it more difficult to get it done in a timely manner,” Mattlin said.
The state fire marshal's office has been down a couple of investigators. Currently, the office has 23 investigators to respond to more than 1,200 calls, Flowers said.
State investigators are called when fires turn fatal, result in injuries or are deemed a “major fire” because of property loss. Many small or volunteer fire departments have no one to investigate fires, Flowers said.
Flowers hopes staffing will improve now that the Ohio Department of Commerce approved the hiring of two more investigators.
Other areas have consolidated.
Ottawa County has pooled its investigators into a county investigation team, which coordinates with the state fire marshal's office for larger fires, Port Clinton Fire and Rescue Chief Kent Johnson said. Port Clinton's one fatal fire in 2012 was ruled accidental, he added.
Even with a complete staff, arsons are difficult to solve.
“Arson is the only crime where you have to prove a crime existed to begin with,” Gallagher said.
Money offered by the Blue Ribbon Arson Committee is rarely distributed because tips are sparse and rarely end in arrests, said T. A. Brininger, executive secretary for the committee funded by insurance companies that profit when these crimes are solved.
“We'd love to have more departments use it. We'd love to give out more reward money,” Brininger said.
Norwich community policing patrols foster sense of security
by JOHN BARRY
Norwich, Conn. —
For the past month, members of a new unit of the Norwich Police Department have been leaving their cars and hitting the city's sidewalks.
“It's a blast to walk,” said Sgt. Peter Camp, a 16-year veteran of the department. Camp leads the new Community Policing Unit and spent most of a year organizing it. “You see a lot more, and you're more in tune with your surroundings.”
The community policing program started Oct. 28 with Camp and six veteran officers who volunteered to join the program. It was paid for through a $246,000 federal grant the city applied for and received.
“What we wanted were some seasoned veterans,” Camp said. “I wanted people who would think problems through. ... They're very, very dedicated officers.”
Most days, two-officer teams patrol in downtown, Greeneville and Taftville. They drive to a neighborhood then get out and walk. When the weather gets warmer, they will ride bikes, as well, Camp said.
For now, the patrols work the 4 p.m. to midnight shift Tuesdays through Saturdays. In 2013, Camp said, the goal is to expand the program to days and evenings seven days a week.
Unlike ordinary patrol officers, members of the community policing unit don't respond to routine radio calls.
“It's a chance to work more on certain problems in certain neighborhoods,” Officer Joel Grispino said. “People get a chance to know us.”
“It gives us a chance to follow through,” Officer Dan Collins said.
Much of their job is to work with residents and business owners in their neighborhoods, such as organizing and supporting crime watches. They also work closely with other city agencies to help solve residents' problems.
“We don't do everything, but we know people who can do everything,” Camp said.
He cited an example of a light that was malfunctioning and blinking yellow recently at the intersection of Main Street and Railroad Place. Fixing it wasn't a high priority for Norwich Public Utilities, Camp said, because drivers weren't being inconvenienced much.
But the continually moving traffic was inconveniencing patrons of the nearby Otis Library. Most park in a lot on Cliff Street and cross Main Street at that intersection. The situation was something Camp said probably wouldn't have been noticed by police driving by on patrol. Instead, he explained the situation to NPU officials, and the light quickly was fixed, he said.
“A lot of what it is is a presence in the neighborhood,” Camp said. “Our goal is to reduce the fear of crime. We want people who live in the city, who visit the city, to feel safe.”
On Thursday, officers from the unit stopped by the library to introduce themselves to the staff. The two officers handed out their cards so they could be called directly if needed.
Business manager Tracey Miller said she appreciates it. “I think they need to make their presence known,” she said.
“People are happy to see us out there,” Collins said. “They know they can just contact us.”
“It's a good idea,” said Jerry Navick, co-owner of the Leader Stores on Central Avenue in Greeneville. “We'd love to have them around. Anytime you have a (police) presence, it helps.”
Navick said police are needed because of people congregating in front of the store who sometimes make customers uncomfortable.
“It's great,” said Murray Navick, his brother and store co-owner. “I wish it happened two years ago.”
On Cliff Street near the soup kitchen in the former St. Joseph School, where the presence of soup kitchen users has been opposed by some neighbors, Troel Hamilton said she sees police officers in the area often.
“Police have been up here a lot, and I like it,” she said.
Bob Shah, owner of P&M Market on South Second Street in Taftville, said a police officer stopped by a few weeks ago to introduce himself and talk, but overall, he hasn't seen much of a police presence around his store.
Shah said he'd welcome community policing patrols — or the ordinary kind, for that matter.
“There's a lot of stuff going on here,” he said.
Officer Harrison Formiglio warned community policing is just getting started and has a long way to go. “We're still in the baby-steps phase,” he said.
The other members of the unit are Tom Lazzaro and Kyle Vesse.
Camp urged people to let them know how they can help. “Feedback would be great,” he said. “We want to hear — good or bad.”
Buy holiday cards that will send a message
by Kathryn Patterson
If you're still searching for the perfect holiday cards to send this year, consider those that do double duty.
Many area nonprofits sell greeting cards that help spread both cheer and charity during the season of giving.
And this year, the need continues to be great.
Maryann Mihalic, executive director of Active Faith Community Services in South Lyon, says her nonprofit is "fighting hunger where we live every day.
"We serve an average of 168 families twice a month that live within the South Lyon School District, which is 86 square miles," she says, adding that the district overlaps Oakland, Livingston and Washtenaw counties."
Mary Honsel, executive director of Crossroads of Michigan, says that "last year Crossroads staff and our trained volunteers met with more than 11,000 individuals and families who were facing a life crisis. Many were challenged with a decision to place food on the table or pay for a vital prescription. The poverty level is staggering, and the need never diminishes."
Here, you'll find information on dozens of nonprofits -- many are from metro Detroit -- and the cards they have to offer.
American Diabetes Association: All proceeds go directly to diabetes research. There are several styles to choose from. Prices range from $4.99 to $25.99 for 20 cards. To order: 800-608-4279 or www.diabetes.org/giftofhope and click on "holiday cards."
Angels' Place: Provides housing and services for people with developmental disabilities. All cards were created by the residents. There are seven styles available; 20 cards for $20, or 10 cards for $10. To order: 248-350-2203 or www.angelsplace.com. Checks made payable to Angels' Place can be sent to 25240 Lahser, Suite 2, Southfield 48033.
Active Faith Community Services: A nonprofit food and clothing pantry in South Lyon. A package of 12 cards is $10. To order: Go to the organization's office, 401 S. Washington, South Lyon; 248-437-9790; www.activefaithcs.org.
Beaumont Hospital: All proceeds from the sale of cards, minus printing costs, go to Integrative Medicine to help people during their journey through cancer. Three angel designs are available, in packs of 10 for $5, plus tax. The designs for the cards were donated by Clarkston artist Jan Mayer, a 20-year cancer survivor. To order: Call or visit the Integrative Medicine program at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, at 248-551-9888, Suite 304, in the Rose Cancer Center; the Beaumont Medical Center, 248-964-9221, at 44250 Dequindre (across from the Troy hospital), Sterling Heights; or the Sola Fitness Center 248-267-5660, at 1555 E. South Blvd., Rochester Hills.
Camp Mak-a-Dream: Offers cost-free camping trips for children with cancer. A pack of eight note cards with envelopes is $10 plus $2 shipping. To order: 248-723-5575; www.campdreammich.org.
Children's Hospital of Michigan Auxiliary: Raises funds to benefit projects and programs that support the well-being of pediatric patients and their families throughout the region. The card is designed by 11-year-old DMC Children's Hospital oncology patient Fatima El-Khatib. A package of 20 cards is $20 (imprint additional), plus shipping and handling. Purchase at the hospital's Something Special Gift Shop or www.childrensdmc.org/giftshop. For more information, call 313-745-5425 or 313-745-0962. Cards are also available at Wild Birds Unlimited, 20485 Mack, Grosse Pointe Woods, 313-881-1410; and Good Neighbors Family Pharmacy, 1956 Venoy Road, Westland, 734-722-8774.
Children's Leukemia Foundation: Provides information, financial assistance and emotional support to Michigan families affected by leukemia, lymphoma and related blood disorders. Cards are 20 for $25, plus tax, shipping and handling. To order: Call 248-530-3000, mail 5455 Corporate Dr., Suite 306, Troy 48098, fax order form to 248-530-3042, or go to www.leukemiamichigan.org.
C.S. Mott Children's Hospital's Congenital Heart Center: Funds raised by Save a Heart help cover travel expenses, lodging for patients and their families, and ongoing evaluation of the highly specialized medical and surgical care provided by the Michigan Congenital Heart Center. A 12-pack of cards is $15, plus shipping and handling. To order: Call or e-mail Stephanie: firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-936-9134. To learn more, go to www.umsaveaheart.org.
Crossroads of Michigan: Provides assistance with food, clothing, prescriptions and medical supplies, transportation, identification, employment support and general aid. It is also the home of Detroit's only Sunday Soup Kitchen. Packages of 20 cards, five each of four designs per set, are $15 plus tax, shipping and handling. To order: Call Dawn Bunkley at 313-831-2787 or go to www.crossroadsofmichigan.org
Detroit Area Agency on Aging: Provides and delivers hot meals to senior citizens in Detroit, Highland Park, Hamtramck, Harper Woods and the Grosse Pointes through the Meals on Wheels Program. A $5 donation provides a greeting card and a hot meal to a needy senior. Call 313-446-4444, ext. 5213, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays or go to www.daaa1a.org.
Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries: Provides meals, emergency shelter, clothing, housing and substance abuse treatment, camping experiences, spiritual guidance, recreation and more. This year's holiday cards, "Pictures of Hope," are photos by children ages 7-12. They are $25 for a box of 15 cards. To order: Call Alex Hermann at 313-993-4700. For more information, go to www.drmm.org.
Forgotten Harvest: Each pack of cards will fund over 100 meals of fresh food rescued from more than 455 sources across southeastern Michigan. Three new styles available. Cards are sold in packs of 20 for $28. To order: Go to www.forgottenharvest.org. For info, contact Rebecca Gade-Sawicki at email@example.com or 248-967-1500, ext. 151.
Friends for the Dearborn Animal Shelter: Provides care and sanctuary, encourages adoptions and promotes compassion for animals. Cards sold in boxes of 10 for $10. Details: 313-943-2697, and press 2. Cards may be purchased 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon., Wed. & Fri., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tue. and Thu., and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat. at 2661 Greenfield, Dearborn, or at www.dearbornanimals.org.
HAVEN: Offers treatment, prevention and education programs for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Oakland County. Cards come in packages of 10 for $10 with red envelopes. To order: Call 248-334-1284, ext. 341, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . For more info: www.haven-oakland.org.
Hospice of Northwest Michigan: Provides physical, emotional and spiritual care to individuals and their families during and following life-limiting illness. Choose from six designs by local artists; 20 cards for $10, 10 cards for $5, plus shipping and handling. Cards are available at Adam's Madames, Central Lake; Busy Bridge Antiques, East Jordan; the Clothing Company, Charlevoix; Local Flavor, Boyne City; Sturgeon River Pottery, Petoskey. Order: 231-547-7659 or www.hospicenwm.org.
Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International: A nonprofit advocate for Type 1 diabetes research worldwide. A variety of holiday greeting cards, note cards and thank-you cards are available at 50% off original prices; imprinting also available. For details, call 877-227-3707 or go to www.jdrf.org/cards.
Make-a-Wish Foundation of Michigan: Grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. Three styles of cards available, ranging from $1 to $10 in quantities of 1-10 cards. 734-994-8620 or www.wishmich.org/seasonofwishes.
Michigan Anti-Cruelty Society: All proceeds benefit homeless and abused animals. A package of 20 cards costs $10, plus shipping and handling. To purchase: Call 313-891-7188, go to www.michigananticrueltysociety.org or Pet Supplies Plus, 42241 Garfield Road, Clinton Township.
Michigan Humane Society: Purchases will help MHS transform the lives of animals in need. There are packages of 15 cards for $12.95 or 20 cards for $19.95, plus shipping and handling. To purchase: 800-866-9189 or www.shopmichiganhumane.org.
New Hope Center for Grief Support: A Christian-based bereavement outreach center that assists adults, teens and children throughout southeastern Michigan who are grieving over the death of a loved one. Price-reduced cards are $10 for a ribbon-tied package of 20. Cards are available for pickup only at the office, 315 Griswold, Northville. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Thu. For info, call 248-348-0115 or go to www.newhopecenter.net.
North Star Reach: Provides camp experiences for children with serious health challenges and their families. A 10-pack of cards costs $50 and includes shipping costs. To order, go to www.northstarreach.org or e-mail Marji at email@example.com.
Our Children's Fund: The small nonprofit in the West Bloomfield School District uses the money raised from the sale of the cards to help families in need during the holiday season. Sets of five cards are $10. The cards can be purchased at any school building in the district or from its Facebook page. For more info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seedlings Braille Books for Children: Proceeds enable Seedlings to place braille books into the hands of visually impaired children in Michigan and around the world. Twelve designs available: $18 per box of 16 large cards and $10 per box of 10 small cards. Purchase 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays at Seedlings office, 14151 Farmington Road, Livonia. 734-427-8552 or www.seedlings.org.
The Sisters of St. Clare: Proceeds help support their life of prayer. Four card designs available; $16 for 20 cards or $10 for 12 cards, plus postage. Purchase at 4875 Shattuck Road, Saginaw, or go to http://srsclare.com and click on "Gift Store" then "Christmas Cards." For details, call 989-797-0593.
UNICEF: Funds from cards bring hope, health and happiness to children around the world. Costs range from $10 to $27 in a variety of styles and quantities. To order: Call 800-553-1200, www.unicefusa.org or by mail at UNICEF, P.O. Box 1500, Louisiana, MO 63353. Cards are also available at Hallmark Gold Crown stores.
Wigs 4 Kids: Reaches out to kids and young adults with hair loss in Michigan. 10 cards for $10 or 20 cards for $15, plus shipping and handling. To purchase: Call 586-772-6656, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, go to www.wigs4kids.org, or visit the office at 30126 Harper, St. Clair Shores.
Wing Lake Developmental Center: Proceeds from this special-needs school's holiday card fund-raiser are used for student projects and activities. A 10-pack of cards costs $7. To order: Call Marilyn or Joyce at 248-341-7900 or visit the center at 6490 Wing Lake Road, Bloomfield Hills, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays. http://winglake.bloomfield.org