Camden County prosecutor makes DWI enforcement a priority

Caleb Cunningham named DWI Hero of the year by the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys

Vicki Wood
Special to the Lake Sun, USA TODAY NETWORK
Camden County Prosecutor Caleb Cunnigham with Camden County Sheriff Tony Helms.

A tough stance on driving while intoxicated has earned Camden County Prosecutor Caleb Cunnigham the statewide honor of being the DWI Hero of the year by the Missouri Association of  Prosecuting Attorneys.  

DWI enforcement is a priority for Cunningham and his office because it makes an immediate impact on the safety of the public. When an officer removes an impaired driver, the roads are immediately safer.

“One of the hardest things to do in this work is talk to a family who lost a loved one to an impaired driver. It is senseless and traumatic,” he said. “Obliviously at the Lake, we have tourists from all over the world who come to have a good time and many choose to use alcohol. We are not anti-alcohol, but we require responsibility. We want people to have a good time, but you will be held accountable for your actions.”

Cunningham was designated for the DWI Hero of the Year Award, a statewide recognition from MAPA for outstanding developments in the area of impaired driving. He developed a system that greatly reduces blood alcohol content testing time with drunk motorists.

“We have the sample drawn by a nurse in-house at the county jail, and the results are available in about 11 minutes. Previously, testing time to results was 4-6 hours. What this means for law enforcement is an officer was having to use half of his or her shift to process one DWI, they can now put through 4-5 a night,” Cunningham explained.

In addition to instituting a no refusal county status, the Camden County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is setting the standard for blood draw search warrant efficiency. “It may not sound exciting to some people, but this is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to serving the community and seeking justice. Something seemingly simple, being a no refusal county with an efficient blood draw system, allows us to hold people accountable and give law enforcement the tools they need for success,” Cunningham said. “An impaired driver who refuses to blow into the breathalyzer can expect a speedy search warrant for his or her blood and a phlebotomist to come to the jail."

Camden County has also developed an Impaired Driving Detection Unit, with one officer dedicated to using this advance in BAC testing. “We’ve processed 140 offenders already through that program. We are taking drunk drivers such as ones caught here at Lake Ozark, and keeping them from behind the wheel returning to Camdenton or other areas, thus saving lives and accidents.”

Cunningham said with the increased tourism throughout the pandemic, Camden County expected an increase in DWIs.

“Working with Sheriff Helms early this year, we created an impaired driving detection unit as part of our strategy to combat impaired drivers. Looking at the numbers from my office, we have seen about a 60% increase in DWIs for this same time last year and over a 250% increase from the year before that,” Cunningham said. “Our systems are some of the most efficient in the state and because of that a single officer is able to make a much larger impact than before.”

Another aspect that is often overlooked when you talk about DWIs, is the fact that it includes drivers who are impaired on drugs, according to Cunningham. The county has seen an increase in drivers who have consumed narcotics or illegal substances.

“These substances hinder them in much the same way, sometimes in worse ways, than consuming too much alcohol. A breath test only shows blood alcohol levels. With the systems that we have put in place, officers have an easier time removing drivers who are impaired on drugs, and frankly, as a prosecutor, we have a much easier time proving impairment in court when there is a blood test,” he said.

The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (MAPA) was established to provide uniformity in the discharge of duties to Missouri’s 115 elected prosecuting and circuit attorneys. In 1981, MAPA collaborated with the State of Missouri and formed the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services (MOPS) to assist prosecuting attorneys in their efforts against criminal activity within the state. MOPS is an autonomous entity governed by the Prosecutors Coordinators Training Council, and is staffed by a team of career prosecutors and dedicated professionals who proudly stand with Missouri’s prosecutors in protecting our communities.