Some in Maine are celebrating the fact that there has been a significant drop in the number of people arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in the past decade. But other people are questioning whether the decline is caused by increased public awareness and enforcement or simply that drunk drivers are more likely to get away with it.

The debate is raging in the state as police and public safety advocates try to determine just exactly what is happening and why.

A Portland Press Herald analysis of data from the Maine Administrative Office of the Courts shows that the number of drunken-driving charges brought by Maine police dropped from 8,029 in 2001 to 6,026 in 2011.

During that same period of time Maine has also severely cutback on funding for police operations and police staff, forcing some departments to close entirely. This, in combination with the drop in DUI arrests has many people pointing to the decline as a bad sign; that people are getting away with driving drunk because there simply are not enough police on the streets to catch them. But others, especially those engaged in law enforcement in the state, say the decline is the result of a direct emphasis on finding and punishing those drivers who dare get behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol.

It is difficult to know just what has caused the near 25 percent decline in the number of drunk driving arrests in the state of Maine. Without omnipotent powers there is no way to know just how many drivers might be under the influence of alcohol and whether or not that number has actually gone down in the past decade or whether they are just being missed.

But it seems likely that now that police are being questioned about the effectiveness of their DUI efforts they will be striving to prove their results are real and not just a fluke and certainly not the result of “out of sight, out of mind.”