One easy way to make yourself paranoid about driving in Missoula is to have a conversation with Missoula Police Officer Bill Tucker.
That’s because Tucker will give you his estimate that 70 to 80 percent of drivers downtown after 10 p.m. are intoxicated. And Tucker should know. He’s spent the last five months as the Missoula Police Department’s designated DUI guy.
In that time he says he’s arrested 102 citizens for driving under the influence. His predecessor, Officer Mike Hebert, made more than 200 arrests last year, when Missoula ranked second in the state for DUI arrests, just behind Billings. Hebert made more DUI arrests last year than any other cop in the state.
The DUI assignment came out of what the police department saw as necessity.
“We knew we had a lot of people drinking and driving with the University and that age group,” Tucker’s commanding officer Sgt. Shawn Paul said in a recent interview. “We have a lot of alcohol being served in Missoula.”
Sgt. Paul also said that Missoula averages 10 or more DUIs in any given weekend, and having a cop dedicated exclusively to DUI frees other officers to respond to the city’s other crimes and misdemeanors.
Hence the DUI position, which has been so active that Tucker says the department is considering adding another officer to the beat.
Tucker says he arrests as many as four people nightly for DUI on his Tuesday through Friday night shifts. But he emphasizes that there are plenty more intoxicated drivers that don’t get arrested.
He explains that’s because he has only a few seconds to assess passing motorists before they disappear into the night.
“In those few seconds, if a driver doesn’t do anything, then I have no way of knowing if they’re intoxicated,” he says.
That’s why most of his DUI arrests result from drivers doing something obviously wrong: driving the wrong way down one-way streets, running stoplights.
Tucker says “a very small percentage” of his arrestees blow anything less than a .1 blood-alcohol content, generally indicating a three-to-five-drink night. Which means business in downtown’s bars must be good. Which makes Tucker’s business better still.