Soundoff: IDIPIC saves lives, not just money
November 30, 2009 · 12:11 PM
By JoAnn Hellman
Once upon a time, in the lands we call Whidbey and Camano, some local
residents realized there was a certain gap in their county’s services.
Some of these people had been arrested for driving under the influence.
Others for being in possession of alcohol when underage (MIP). Police
officers arrested them and judges sentenced them as mandated by Washington
State. Besides fines, jail time and other traditional criminal sentencing
measures, such people were also routinely court-ordered to a type of
“creative sentencing” called a Victim Impact Panel.
What do VIPs do? They help to individualize and humanize the consequences
of DUI, enabling DUI offenders to see beyond their anger and denial. As
for MIPs, these are often newer drivers; so an ounce of prevention IS
worth a pound of cure. Panels with speakers who are professionals that
work with DUI offenders and/or victims, such as police officers, are
called Impaired Driving Impact Panels.
But lo and behold: those arrested, convicted and sentenced found there was
no such service as impaired driving impact panels in Island County.
“It is not deemed an essential service by our state” Island County
officials would explain when asked. And so these people had to drive to
other counties like Skagit, Whatcom or Jefferson to fulfill their
But then some other people realized this dilemma and said “Waaaaaaaaiiiit
a minute. Why do other counties in our state have these panels, when we do
not?” And that is because those counties found such panels essential even
though the state did not.
These other people were not just annoyed, they were concerned. And they
were also very dedicated. They formed a group called the Impaired Driving
Impact Panel of Island County that was composed of representatives from
the Island County Sheriff’s Office, Prosecutor’s Office, NAS Whidbey
Island, Oak Harbor School District, Department of Corrections, a local
driving instructor, prior MADD volunteers and many others. They all worked
very hard to develop a little non-profit organization with a big name,
which took on the acronym IDIPIC. It held its first monthly panel November
2000 with thirteen attendees. At the last panel the 16,145th person
attended. Panels are now held twice a month in Oak Harbor, once a month in
Freeland, and eight times a year aboard Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
After a year of panels, IDIPIC realized DUI and MIP behaviors would be
easier to prevent than change. This resulted in the development of several
alcohol/other substance use prevention programs through the years, from
PICKLES: Positive Influences Changing Kids’ Lives in Elementary Schools
for third graders all the way to drivers education classes that also
stress DUI prevention.
After many successful years, IDIPIC returned to the county government.
But with the economic conditions being unfavorable, to take it over — as a
wise local judge suggested — would not be feasible. Therefore a very small
funding request was made. This request was able to be very small due to
over 50 well-trained volunteers, a director who works at a considerable
discount, and many local business and organization supporters, called
Partners in Prevention who donate time, services, materials and money. And
the County said “Yes, it is good” and provided $3,600 to pay for 18 of the
36 panels provided annually by IDIPIC or half the operational cost. That’s
$200 per panel.
That does not include the eight provided for Naval Air Station Whidbey
Island each year. The Navy has a long tradition of “taking care of its
By comparison, a neighboring county provides HALF as many VIPs through a
government agency at a cost of nearly $1,000 panel. But they have to use
government employees, facilities and utilities, and so on.
The County understood last year that its funding for panels offset the
actual panel cost to allow IDIPIC to more fully provide its prevention
work with thousands of youth, mostly through public and private schools
and four local driving schools. Still it was a struggle but IDIPIC
persevered with an occasional grant, private donations, an annual
fundraiser, and its Partners.
In September IDIPIC went to the County to reapply for 2010 funding. The
director did not say “More, please.” The director understood times were
financially tough. Two of the commissioners were there, spoke highly of
IDIPIC’s work, and smiled. All seemed good.
A few weeks later six elected officials made budget demands, and things
got all shook up. On the top of the list was the demand the County cut all
“non-essential functions” like an “impaired driving prevention program.”
But The Six did not have all the information regarding IDIPIC as the
County was given. Or now you, dear reader.
IDIPIC was not mad at The Six, after all they were doing what they felt
was necessary. And they made other suggestions to the County to help with
the current financial fiasco. Some even said they would donate $250 to
IDIPIC. While that is appreciated it’s stop-gap and not realistic to
expect that $250 from a few elected officials will fix this.
And dear readers, contrary to what you may have read in your local
newspaper, government agencies CAN get funding beyond county level. For
example, police departments can get federal grants to help them with their
cost of dealing with crime. They can also ask for funding on a state level
to help with “extra” things like DUI emphasis patrol. They can ask, and
have, but they don’t always get. Just like IDIPIC.
The part of the story the powers that be seem to be overlooking is this:
The courts — a government agency — routinely require people to attend an
impaired driving impact panel; specifically in Island County, IDIPIC. It
costs the court nothing; even the triplicate form used is paid for by
IDIPIC. While judges are not required to send people to these panels,
they do, and basically treat the word “may” here as “will:” Washington (§
46.61.5152): A person convicted of a DUI offense may be required to
attend an educational program that focuses on the emotional, physical and
financial suffering of DUI victims.
Now that you have the facts from one of the “non-essential function”
folks, you see that:
1) Many of our counties see DUI panels as essential by having government
agencies run them.
2) The courts here see our DUI impact panel as essential by ordering
offenders to attend.
3) Island County has a well-run panel nearly 10 years old that costs the
County a fraction of others.
4) This panel has saved the county about $250,000 through the years.
But that’s only money. What makes IDIPIC truly essential, is that it is
working tirelessly and quite cost-effectively to save lives. Yet in the
interim, most assuredly also saving the county — that’s us: taxpayers —
money beyond a quarter million AND from the costs of police and emergency
response, and maybe more — like DUI trials and jail time.
Every time someone who’s been to IDIPIC, and had their attitude adjusted
but mostly their heart touched, and taken that “Knowledge is power” pledge
at the end of the panel, that’s maybe a DUI that doesn’t happen here
someday. Or a student who’s had the eye-opening experience of one of
IDIPIC’s school programs, and doesn’t need to be rushed to the hospital
due to alcohol poisoning. That surely costs the County far more than the
$2,400 it is planning to cut from its current support to this community
service organization. As a government employee recently commented, the
$3,600 IDIPIC gets from the County is “paltry.”
This is not a fairy tale and therefore IDIPIC is not hoping for “happily
ever after” in what has been a Grim couple of months. What IDIPIC IS
hoping for is that the County makes a now fully informed and favorable
reconsideration regarding funding to IDIPIC.
If you feel that the County should not take away that which gives so much
to so many for so little, and that lives very well are being spared
because of IDIPIC’s work, perhaps yours or mine, which is worth far more
than a couple of thousand dollars, please:
Email your county commissioners not to reduce IDIPIC funding or to at
least reduce it minimally for 2010:
Better yet, show up at its December 7 budget hearing, where the Board will
take comments from the public. I’m sorry to inform you that this will be
in the morning or early afternoon, when most people are at work. Unlike
the meeting with county employees November 30, which IS in the evening.
Please call 679-7354 for the time as it has not yet been set.
Safer kids, safer roads with your support… and the County’s.
JoAnn Hellmann is Executive Director of IDIPIC.