New police training on impaired driving help make Portage safer in 2018

February 28, 2019

Intoxicated driving arrests are up, but Portage Police Chief Ken Manthey says the community overall remains a safe place to live and work.

The number of intoxicated driving arrests within city limits increased to 166 in 2018 − the highest number since 2012, according to a 2018 annual police department report. But it doesn’t necessarily mean more people are driving while intoxicated.

Manthey said because police officers have taken new training in the last few years to better identify non-alcoholic substances such as marijuana or narcotics, more traffic stops have led to arrests as a result.

“Officers are better trained on looking for those clues and documenting them,” Manthey said.

Portage Mayor Rick Dodd said some people don’t realize that a couple of drinks can impair their driving, and police are looking to better identify prescription drugs and their impact on drivers.

Dodd said he and Manthey have spoken on various occasions about how to better identify tell-tale signs of drivers impaired by marijuana or opioids. He said field training is important, because impaired driving incidents can happen at any time or place.

Other crimes

Other data compiled in the 2018 police annual report shows burglaries steadily have decreased since 2015. Citations have dropped since 2016. The number of thefts from motor vehicles also are down. Criminal damage to property incidents are also lower in 2018.

Manthey said perhaps burglaries and some thefts are down because police efforts on social media and news outlets to warn the public to lock their homes and vehicles to prevent car shoppers from stealing their items are proving successful.

Police consistently run informational campaigns about driving sober and wearing seat belts.

He said traffic stop warnings are up, which could have led to the decrease in need for citations if drivers are heeding warnings.

Portage’s police force is down four fully-trained officers, which Manthey said also may be a factor in the decrease in traffic citations. He hopes that after an officer completes training in April and once another officer is hired soon, it could help law enforcement cover more ground.

Dodd said the police department is understaffed and overworked, but the city is trying to fill open positions.

The number of homicides is very low, Manthey said, and none of the incidents recorded between 2016 and 2018 were random acts. One homicide occurred in 2018, two in 2016 and one in 2013. All other years since 2012 saw zero homicides.

Although 12 automobile thefts occurred in 2018, that’s nearly half the number reported in 2016. Despite detoxification holds spiking at 22 in 2017, most other years have barely broken double digits in that category.

Stolen automobile incidents are rare, and most involve a family member or friend who didn’t get permission to borrow a vehicle, said Portage police detective lieutenant Dan Garrigan.

Aside from those areas, the data largely ebbs and flows dating back to 2012.

Dodd said nothing in the report jumped out at him as irregular. He said 2018 was a good year for the city and its citizens.

Manthey said due to Portage’s close proximity to Madison, the community tends to be a microcosm of criminal trends there because people who commit crimes in the capital easily can make their way to Portage as well.

Garrigan said local residents care about their quality of life and tend to speak up and help each other out in hopes of curbing crime.

“I think it’s good stuff,” Garrigan said, adding that 2018 was a pretty general year in terms of police responses and activity.