Drunk Driving Arrests On Nantucket Have Surged. What's Behind The Increase?

David Creed •

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This Jeep Wrangler rolled over in a crash over Memorial Day Weekend after being struck by alleged drunk driver.

Drunk driving arrests on Nantucket have surged over the past month. For the year to date, they're on pace to increase 40 percent compared to the total from 2023.

From April 1, 2023 through September 4, 2023 - a span of six months - there were 20 arrests made for operating a motor vehicle under the influence (OUI). From May 18 of this year through the morning of June 14 - a span of less than a month - there have been 20 OUI arrests made on the island.

The sharp uptick in drunk driving arrests sparks the obvious question: Why?

The Current caught up with Nantucket Police Chief Jody Kasper to discuss the numbers and whether they are the result of a change in tactics by police, a focused crackdown, or an increase in drunken driving. Or something else entirely.

"I think everyone is seeing increases in OUI arrests if you're looking at data from 2020 to now because moving through COVID, most police departments pulled back on proactive enforcement just because of safety for everyone involved,” Kasper told the Current. “We didn't know a lot about COVID at the time, so the numbers are definitely going back up.”

Kasper said she looked and compared the total number of OUI arrests made in 2023 to 2024 and found that there were 36 arrests made last year compared to 31 made already this year.

“Obviously we're ahead of where we were last year at this time, certainly,” Kasper said. “But it's notable that in May, because it stood out to me as well that we've had a lot in recent time, I went and looked and found we had seven in May last year and nine in May this year. So you know, we have Memorial Day weekend in there, as well as a number of other events that may be contributing to this."

Kasper said there have not been any messages sent to the department from the NPD administration to crack down on drunk driving or any impaired driving beyond what officers have done in the past.

“I haven't needed to say that because we have an incredible staff that has a lot of self-initiation," Kasper said. "They do a great job identifying issues on the roadways and dealing with them."

According to Kasper, 72 percent of OUI arrests this year were the result of proactive motor vehicle stops, which means that officers are more often seeing a violation, stopping the car, and making the arrest, rather than responding to a crash resulting from drunk driving.

“These arrests are the result of officers being proactive versus other types where they're getting called to an accident that's already occurred,” Kasper said. “So our officers are doing a great job of removing people from the roadways before those accidents occur. I don't know what's more valuable that we can be doing regarding traffic than removing impaired operators, which is making our roadways safer.”

For anyone who finds the number of OUI arrests to be excessive or over the top, Kasper strongly disagrees with that notion.

“It is absolutely not over the top,” Kasper said of the arrests being made. “Without a doubt, I think one of the most advantageous actions that an officer can take is to remove an impaired operator from the roadway. We don't know how many collisions are being prevented, how many injuries and deaths are being prevented. You don't know that when you're making these arrests. Our officers are making these arrests proactively.”

Kasper also pointed out that the presence of Massachusetts State Police (MSP) Troopers on the island has increased as well. For years, Kevin Bates would be the lone MSP trooper on-island during the offseason with two additional troopers coming over for seasonal work from Memorial Day Weekend through mid-October. This year, there are four MSP troopers on-island, and they are responsible for seven of the 31 OUI arrests made so far this year.

“So the Massachusetts State Police have a good presence here too and are active as well,” Kasper said.

Nantucket Police Department Chief Jody Kasper. Photo by Kit Noble

Bates did not respond to a request for comment about whether he has ordered his troopers to make a more concerted effort to crack down on drunk driving compared to years past.

It is also clear that the increase in arrests has not been the result of more NPD cops on the road. Kasper was asked to provide an update on how the police department’s staffing levels are at the moment, and admitted it is a challenge the department is trying to navigate through.

"We're not in an ideal position,” Kasper said. “We have positions that are filled, but we have people who are in training. So that is the challenge."

Kasper said they currently have three student officers in the Plymouth Academy, one in a separate academy, and two in the Randolph Academy that just began.

"The challenge with that is technically we have the positions filled and we're looking 'Oh good. They have a full roster.' But then you start counting and you realize 'Oh wait a minute. We have a lot of people who are in training.’ So those are full-time positions even though they're away at the academy for quite a long time. So that's our challenge. Of 41 positions, we have two vacancies, and we have seven in training.”

Staffing is not an unfamiliar obstacle for the NPD. It has plagued the department for years. Kasper commended the officers in-house who have been putting in many hours to keep the island safe and said she is motivated to find ways to keep them on Nantucket moving forward.

"It is incredibly challenging and we're working very, very much and putting a lot of effort into recruiting and retention,” Kasper continued. “I mean, the most important part of any agency is to be retaining the great people that we have who are working with us already. So, there's certainly been a lot of discussions around housing, housing stability, and how we can have our officers stay.”

Kasper encouraged people to continue looking for safe, alternative ways to travel across the island. She wanted to remind the community that it is free to ride the NRTA Wave Buses this summer and that there are a plethora of rideshare options (Uber & Lyft) at everyone’s disposal.

“You can even take a NanTukTuk cab ride,” Kasper said smiling when mentioning the new pedicab business. “There is a wide range of options to safely navigate the island, and I hope people will continue to make choices to drive safely and responsibly moving forward.”

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