Riverton City Council urged to create a perception that alcohol abuse is “not okay” here

Management consultant Ernest Johnson spoke to the Riverton City Council Tuesday night on local alcohol involved crime. (Ernie Over photo) 

(Riverton, Wyo.) – When the City of Riverton hosted this years Wyoming Association of Municipalities annual conference, City Administrator Steven Weaver attended a session by the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police on Alcohol and Crime data in the state. Impressed with the presentation by consultant Ernest Johnson of Douglas, Weaver invited him back to the city to speak to the city council at Tuesday’s work session.

It was a bit like preaching to the choir.

In Johnson’s presentation, he linked a rising trend of alcohol abuse and public intoxication to other serious crimes.

At the beginning of this year in a city council retreat, the issue of addressing public intoxication in Riverton was the top priority voted on by the council. Johnson and the council are on the same page, but what Johnson was able to provide was a multi-year look at local Riverton and Fremont County statistics to see where trend lines were moving.

Johnson also said the information he was presenting “is not an attack on alcohol,” which he said is a legal drug, “but it points out what and where the problem areas are so you, through city policies, can address them.” Among the information provided to the council was specific Riverton and Fremont County arrest rates in a number of serious crime categories.

In a statistic that Johnson said “should open some eyes” was alcohol’s involvement in local arrests. According to statistics he compiled from the county’s law enforcement agencies, in 2012, just over 97 percent of all arrests made in Riverton had some degree of alcohol involvement. In Lander the number was lower, at just under 70 percent and arrests by the Sheriff’s Department with alcohol involvement totaled 57 percent. Johnson said the statistics were only for people transported to the Fremont County Jail, and did not involve intakes at the Fremont County Alcohol Crisis Center in Riverton, although he had also tracked those numbers.

Driving While Under the Influence arrests were lowest in the City of Riverton, 16.6 percent, but highest in the County, 28.9 percent. Johnson said the city is doing a good job with DUI enforcement and he acknowledged that some of the DUI arrests in the county came from people who had been drinking in the city, but were arrested outside of the city limits. Lander’s arrest rate for DUI was just under the county’s, at nearly 28 percent.

Johnson said it was clear that Riverton was aware of the alcohol problem, but he challenged the city council that part of their duty was to “make a statement and stand behind it. You need to create the perception that alcohol abuse is not okay in Riverton.”

The consultant also presented information on people who do not drink, and he said in Fremont County, over a third, 35 percent of the population, doesn’t consume any alcohol at all. The statewide average for the non-drinking population is 33 percent.

He said public awareness is a key to addressing the issue and he suggested the city make alcohol arrests a regular report on their agenda, so the policy makers and the public would have constant reminders of what is happening in the community. He also promoted the idea of a 24/7 Sobriety program, where alcohol offenders are tested twice a day and if they’ve consumed any alcohol, they go to jail. He said the number of domestic violence assaults in South Dakota where this program was established, had dropped significantly. “People make better decisions when they are not drinking, and this program has been shown to be effective.

A former Casper police officer, Johnson has been working with the Sheriff’s and Chiefs association since 2005 as a management consultant. He also is the facilitator for the Wyoming Seat Belt Coalition and he facilitates and coordinates the Governor’s Council on Impaired Driving.