Opinion

Soundoff: IDIPIC saves lives, not just money

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

requirement.

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

own.”

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.

Until ...

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:

district1@co.island.wa.us (Homola)

district2@co.island.wa.us (Price-Johnson)

district3@co.island.wa.us (Dean)

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.

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