PORTLAND, Maine — Police in Maine’s most populous city are sounding the alarm about a concerning rise in OUI arrests in 2021.
Portland police made 84 arrests for operating under the influence from Jan. 1 through April 13 this year. That almost doubles recent years’ totals, when police arrested 41 people for OUI last year and 49 in 2019 over the same time period. Of the 84 arrests, 19 involved crashes.
Calling impaired driving “a serious public safety concern,” police chief Frank Clark linked the rise in OUI charges to social factors related to the pandemic “as COVID restrictions ease and people seek to return to some sense of normalcy.”
The police chief recognized that pandemic factors might be influencing behavior.
“The bars are back open, the restaurants are back open, people want to get back out,” Clark said, adding that one factor could be people not feeling comfortable calling a taxi or rideshare service which could expose them to a potentially infected person.
Though people are driving fewer miles in Maine because of the pandemic, the state is seeing “an increase in driving crashes,” according to Pat Moody, spokesperson for AAA of Northern New England.
A corresponding increase was happening at the county level, which saw a 65 percent increase in OUI arrests, according to Naldo Gagnon, deputy chief of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s office.
Most of the OUIs came in March, when Portland police made 37 arrests. None of those came on March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day — police spokesperson David Singer said.
Police attributed 13 of this year’s OUI arrests to “multiple-drug impairment” behind the wheel, suggesting factors like the availability of recreational cannabis and the opioid epidemic have also contributed to the rise in impaired driving.