The Edina Police Department is one of the toughest law enforcement agencies in the state when it comes to drunken driving, with most of its arrests occurring along the freeways that thread through town, an analysis of last year's DWI data shows.
Officers for the west metro suburb arrested 476 people for impaired driving last year, according to data compiled from state and local sources. When measured against the city's population, that number puts Edina's DWI arrest rate at twice that of its neighbor Bloomington and nearly seven times greater than that of Minneapolis.
Edina's total DWI arrests in 2017 were second in the state only to the 570 made by Minneapolis police and slightly more than the 464 impaired drivers arrested by St. Paul police last year. But Edina's 51,000 residents are far fewer than Minneapolis' 420,000 or St. Paul's 304,000.
The data underscore the Edina department's long-standing reputation for heavy traffic enforcement, especially on the state highways. The city has been a leader in issuing speeding tickets, and residents and commuters often see the city's squad cars stationed under bridges and on exit ramps.
"Traffic complaints are the number one concern of our residents," Edina Police Chief Dave Nelson said in an e-mail message. "During nondemand time, our officers do focus their efforts in addressing our residents' number one concern."
About 60 percent of Edina's DWI arrests last year were made on the three highways that cross the city — Hwys. 100, Crosstown 62 and 169 — that account for some of the largest traffic volumes in the metro area. More than 200 DWI arrests occurred along Hwy. 100 alone.
Nelson partly credits the department's high number of arrests to an officer on staff who focuses exclusively on drunken driving. The position is funded by a four-year grant from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety division that 12 agencies, including Edina police, received in 2015.
Edina's grant-funded officer, Jake Heckert, made about 135 of last year's DWI arrests, according to Nelson. Heckert has said that most of his arrests begin by simply stopping speeders. The number of DWI arrests has steadily risen ever since the department received the grant.
Doing their jobs
Even so, Edina's DWI arrest rate remains far ahead of those recorded by other police agencies that also got state grants, including Minneapolis, Duluth and St. Cloud. It is closest to that of Lino Lakes, a north metro city of about 21,200 whose police arrested 179 people for impaired driving last year.
Both Edina and Lino Lakes were featured on a list of the 20 safest cities in Minnesota recently published by SafeWise, a home security website that looked at crime rates reported to the FBI. Both cities have comparatively low violent and property crime rates, according to the report.
Lino Lakes Public Safety Director John Swenson attributed his department's DWI arrest numbers to the stretches of Interstate 35E and 35W that run through its jurisdiction. "Our residents are using those interstates," he said. "It is appropriate, it is imperative that we're out there policing those thoroughfares."
The Lino Lakes police force doesn't always know what other agencies may be patrolling the freeways at any given time, Swenson said — including the State Patrol, which primarily focuses on traffic safety along the state's highways.
State Patrol data showed around 30 DWI arrests in Edina last year.
The legal limit for a DWI offense is a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent, although people with a lower concentration also may be charged depending on circumstances.
More than half of Edina's arrests last year were fourth-degree violations, which are considered misdemeanors and can lead to a fine of up to $1,000. A handful were first-degree violations that can result in a felony conviction.
Edina resident Kory Schleicher said he often sees local police on the highways and feels good knowing that they are keeping intoxicated drivers off the road.
"It's their responsibility to make sure that people are following the laws and that we get to where we need to, efficiently and safely," Schleicher said.
Vanessa Guerra, who works at a cosmetics store in the 50th and France district, said the high number of DWI arrests on the highways also could be the result of suburban residents who don't take precautions when drinking, such as using ride-share services. She said the freeways, especially Hwy. 100, are corridors to other bedroom suburbs and are usually congested.
"I think [the police are] doing what they should be doing," she said.
Edina Mayor James Hovland said the arrest rate is probably due to the high number of drivers using the city's freeways every day. But he said the numbers aren't as relevant to him as what police are able to do to maintain the area's security.
"They're not only keeping Edina residents safe, they're keeping everybody in the west metro safe from drunken drivers," he said.