By Pat Pratt
If you’re out for a night of drinking in Columbia and officer Mark Hoehne is on duty, you might want to just go ahead and call that cab.
Since joining the Columbia Police Department’s DWI enforcement unit in 2016, Hoehne has made 429 arrests for intoxicated driving. His statistics recently caught the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which honored Hoehne with its People Saving People Award.
“We want everyone to get home safely and be able to have a long life,” Hoehne said. “We don’t want them out there ending their lives or other people’s lives. So for us it’s important just to make sure everyone gets home safely.”
Not everyone always does, which is part of the reason the 36-year-old officer is passionate about what he does. He said it’s a terrible feeling having to knock on the door of a family and tell them a loved one has died or was seriously injured at the hands of an intoxicated driver.
“It puts a big emotional toll on you,” Hoehne said. “You are going to someone’s house you never met and have to tell them their son or daughter is not coming home tonight, she died in this car crash at the hands of someone who shouldn’t have been driving. And it makes it harder on us because we are like, why didn’t we catch them.”
With only two officers in the DWI unit to cover the entire city, Hoehne has his work cut out for him. Columbia boasts three universities and dozens of establishments which serve alcohol, and there is no shortage of under the influence drivers.
“We have to look at it like there are only two of us in the DWI unit and we have the entire city of Columbia as an area to patrol,” Hoehne said. “With two people in ten hours, you have to balance paperwork with being out on the street. You can’t hit every street in the entire city throughout the night and catch every single one.”
The city also has numerous transportation options available, but much to the unit’s dismay, too few people chose to use them Hoehen said.
“We’ve got taxis, Uber, Lyft, Mizzou has Stripes, so we’ve got all these available ride options for people to take to the bar or go home,” Hoehne said. “Off campus housing often buses students to locations and takes them home, and people don’t utilize them. We still have people go to the bar in their personal car and drive home, because they don’t want to leave it downtown”
There is a common trait among offenders following their arrest, Hoehne said. Once they have sobered up, many are remorseful for the damage they have caused if involved in an accident. However by then, it’s often too late.
“They didn’t mean to do it, they feel terrible, and some don’t even realize they did it,” Hoehne said. “Some were so intoxicated they have no idea what happened that night. A lot, once they realize someone is dead or critically injured, they ask more questions. They want to know about the other person or what exactly happened. You try to relay to them what you know. And that if they had not been driving, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Drinking was a factor in 147 fatal crashes and 2,057 injury crashes on state roadways in 2017 according to statistics provided by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Three of those fatalities and 32 of those injuries happened in Columbia, numbers that Hohen hopes to reduce.
“DWI enforcement to me is a key thing because you never know how many lives you are going to save,” Hoehne said. “If I make an arrest I have saved that person’s life, and I don’t know how many lives down the road, where they could have killed somebody, a family, another officer or anybody. That is the biggest driving force for me, I never know how many lives I will get to save by arresting just one person.”
The award was presented to Hoehne at the Law Enforcement Traffic Safety Advisory Council Conference last week at the Lake of the Ozarks. Hoehne’s supervisor, Sgt. Curtis Perkins, who received the award in 2005, and Interim Police Geoff Jones both said they were proud of the officers accomplishments.
“Officer Hoehne is passionate about public safety,” Jones said. “He is dedicated to curbing drunk driving and the life-altering impacts of drunk driving. His dedication to DWI enforcement shows his commitment to this community. We are proud of his accomplishments.”
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