Misleading: Rigathi Gachagua's claim that US police drive drunk people home

Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Kenya Kwanza deputy presidential candidate Rigathi Gachagua has claimed that police in the US drive drunk drivers home and that Kenya should borrow a leaf.

In a political rally in Kiambu, Mr Gachagua said if deputy President William Ruto-led camp wins the presidential election come August 9, 2022, their administration would ensure drunk people are not arrested.

Instead, Mr Gachagua said, police officers would be driving such people home, a practice he claimed happens in the US.

“Na tunataka tureform our police service iwe kama pale Marekani. Pale Amerika polisi akikutanana na wewe usiku kama wewe ni mzee na umekunywa chupa moja mbili ya kutafuta usingizi, akikuweka kwa land cruiser asikupeleke station, akupeleke mpaka nyumbani kwa bibi yako na awache umefika,” Mr Gachagua said.

Mr Gachagua’s comments loosely translated to: “We want to reform our police service so that it can operate like that of America. In America, if a police officer bumps into you at night, and you are mature, after enjoying one or two bottles of alcohol to calm the night, he puts you in the land cruiser and instead of taking you to the station, they drive you to your wife and ensure you have arrived safely.”

Is this factual? Does it happen in the US?

The Standard Checkpoint sought to find out whether there is such a law or practice within the US police service.

Public intoxication laws and penalties

Public intoxication, drunk in public, drunk and disorderly conduct, all refer to the same crime and is treated differently by each US state.

Driving under the influence is an offense. [iStockphoto]

Most US states have laws that make it a crime to be intoxicated in public (whether due to alcohol consumption, drug use, or both), although some state laws require some kind of accompanying disruptive public behaviour (similar to disorderly conduct) or danger to one's self or another for it to be a crime.

In states where no specific public intoxication law exists on the books, law enforcement officers may have the discretion to detain people who are intoxicated at a debilitating level and let them sleep it off in a local jail cell.

Public intoxication laws are meant to protect the safety of someone who is intoxicated, and more generally protect society's interest in the free and safe use of sidewalks, parks, shopping malls, restaurants, and virtually any space outside one's home that is open to the public.

Across many states, it is not a crime to be drunk in public. But it is a criminal offense to be drunk and disorderly in public.

The police have may opt to take an intoxicated person into protective custody and take them home if the arresting officer determines that this would be beneficial.

If the person needs medical care, the police are allowed to take the person to a medical facility.

When no medical treatment is needed, the officer can take the intoxicated person to a shelter or local jail. The police are allowed to keep an intoxicated person in protective custody until he is sober or for 24 hours.

Drunk and disorderly is classified as a class 3 misdemeanour. For a first offense, the punishment can include one to 10 days in jail and a fine of up to $200 (Sh23,500). If the person has prior convictions, the jail sentence is increased to up to 20 days.

An officer based in Washington DC told the Standard Checkpoint that it is all up to the discretion of the officers on duty to decide what would work in the best interest of the intoxicated person and the public.

Police vehicle. [iStockphoto]

“If the police went around picking up every tweeker (drug addict because here, people, mostly, abuse drugs, not alcohol) and taking them home to their wives, they would do nothing else. They are so many,” said the officer in their response.

The officer said in the case they think someone is having a medical emergency, they will call for an ambulance for them but not just an intoxicated person going about their business.

“And it is also true that they cannot book anyone into a jail unless they find them actively committing a crime or they have a warrant for their arrest,” said the officer.

In most states that punish public intoxication as a criminal offense, prosecutors must prove several elements in order to convict a person of the offense.

Verdict: The Standard Checkpoint rates this claim as misleading since it is upon the discretion of the arresting officer who determines what would be beneficial in a given case.