The Door County League of Women Voters sponsored a public forum at Sturgeon Bay High School on Nov. 18 to address urgent issues related to alcohol and other drug abuse.
Panelists from around the county informed community members about the consequences of drunk driving and its dire effect on families and the community.
Setting a melancholy tone for the forum, a short, locally produced film With Whom Will It End? was shown. The film displays the consequences of drunk driving on two teenage girls from Northern Door County and their families.
Sheriff Terry Vogel said the accident reveals the consequences of mixed distractions: drinking underage, driving without seatbelts, and getting distracted.
“It was a fatal car crash that could’ve been prevented,” Vogel said.
Despite law enforcement’s effort to prevent such fatalities, dilemmas caused from alcohol and drug abuse often go unnoticed.
One is costs. Out of the $64 million budget for Door County, $7 million goes to jails and law enforcement.
“Three-quarters of jail inmates are there for alcohol and drug abuse. It is easy to see that with the number of arrests rising, less jail space is available,” County Board Supervisor Marc Savard said.
The number of related crimes hasn’t changed much in the past few years. Citations for Operating While Intoxicated (OWI), have only dropped from 58 to 50 since 2008.
Penalties will always be given to those who commit a crime. However, Judge Peter Diltz said statistics show that lessons have not been learned when it comes to alcohol and drug abuse.
“Penalties work for some people, but an awful lot ignore them,” Diltz said. “There isn’t a lasting effect.”
Drunk driving arrests have become number one on the priority list.
“We see it so much,” Diltz said.
Though the penalties aren’t doing the job, jails have developed programs to help inmates rehabilitate. These include getting a General Education Diploma (GED), searching for jobs, creating goals, talking to a counselor, and participating in Bible studies. According to Police Chief Dan Trelka, there isn’t a “silver bullet” to solve these problems.
“What confounds law enforcement is the culture that we confront,” he said. “This is a culture that has been here for decades. I’d like to say things have gotten better, but they haven’t.”
Bob Nickel, Sturgeon Bay High School principal, discussed drinking problems at the school level. In order for a student to participate in a sport, both the parents and student need to sign and agree to an athletic code, which stipulates no drinking while on the team.
“Citations of drinking cases the school receives have come from the police department. This means that parents aren’t turning their children in if they are caught drinking,” Nickel said.
This isn’t just a school issue, though. It is a community problem.
District Attorney Ray Pelrine shared statistics about the rate of alcohol and drug abuse arrests. Wisconsin is one of the leaders in the nation. Door County is almost double that of Wisconsin’s arrest rates. Susan Todey, AODA Coalition Chair, said total community involvement is needed to help solve this crisis.
“We need to have a strong, consistent, redundant message that we are not going to stand for it,” Todey said.
In their efforts to reduce and prevent substance abuse, AODA provides leadership, education, and support. “We also need to address the fact that this affects the family socially and emotionally,” Todey said.
AODA supports various youth activities and facilities, business and parent involvement, teen coping and education, and parent networking.
“Parent networking encourages parents that it is okay to say no about alcohol use and to supervise parties,” said Tina Baeten, AODA Coordinator of Community Programs.
A DVD recording of the forum is available at each Door County school for those who would like to watch it.