With the state attorney general touting the 100,000th test in a sobriety program he pushed through the Legislature, some local sheriffs say they would like to get that program going here on the Hi-Line as soon as possible, but there are some stumbling blocks.
Blaine County Sheriff Glenn Huestis and Hill County Sheriff Don Brostrom both said they want to have the 24/7 Sobriety Program, where repeat driving under the influence of intoxicants offenders are tested twice a day for alcohol use, in place, but figuring out how and where to implement the program is a problem.
“We’d like to get it started but as of yet we haven't gotten it started … ,” Huestis said this morning. “Mainly it’s shortage of manpower for me, (and) getting a place that you can test twice a day, two hours a day each time.”
Attorney Steve General Bullock, who is the democratic nominee for governor, started a pilot program testing repeat DUI offenders in Lewis and Clark County a few years ago, then pushed a bill through the 2011 Legislature making it an option statewide.
Bullock is facing Republican Rick Hill and Libertarian Ron Vandevender in November’s general election.
Bullock announced that the 100,000th test in the 24/7 sobriety program happened before Labor Day, and that more than 99 percent of the tests have tested negative for alcohol. He says that is proof the program is keeping repeat offenders sober.
Part of the program allows for using remote monitoring systems, Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitors called SCRAM bracelets, in rural areas.
Huestis said Blaine County has been using SCRAM bracelets — generally paid for at the offender’s own expense, as the 24/7 tests are — for about three years.
“They’ve been working very well for us,” he said, adding that he wants the offenders — and the courts — to have options like the SCRAM bracelets and the 24/7 tests available.
Brostrom also said manpower is the biggest problem for him to implement the tests, also saying he would like to see it put in place.
“The problem is manpower,” he said. “I just don’t have the manpower to have deputies here twice a day for two hours at a shot.”
Huestis said setting a location also can be problematic. The testing could be done in Chinook, for example, but if an offender loses driving privileges and lives in Harlem, that means driving 20 miles one-way twice a day without a license.
“You may be encouraging them to break the law,” he said.
Brostrom applauded different programs like the 24/7 program and the DUI and drug courts being created in Hill County, but said it can stretch resources.
If his deputies are given more and more responsibilities like doing the 24/7 testing, or those are shifted to dispatchers and detention center officers, it can spread resources too thin, he said.
“Pretty soon, there’s nobody to take calls for service and investigate crimes and go to bar fights and so on and so forth,” he said.
He and Huestis both said they are continuing to look at how the program could be implemented here.
“It just takes a little time to get it started,” Huestis said. “I would say in a couple of months we probably will, but as of today, we’re not.”