Isanti County judge receives national award for fight against drunken driving

Ralph Blackman, president and CEO of The Century Council, presents Isanti County Judge James Dehn (right) with its annual Kevin E. Quinlan Award for Excellence in Traffic Safety during a ceremony Dec. 5 in Washington, D.C.
Ralph Blackman, president and CEO of The Century Council, presents Isanti County Judge James Dehn (right) with its annual Kevin E. Quinlan Award for Excellence in Traffic Safety during a ceremony Dec. 5 in Washington, D.C.

Isanti County Judge James Dehn has received a national award for his work dedicated to fighting drunken driving.

The Century Council, a national nonprofit organization funded by distillers dedicated to fighting drunken driving and underage drinking, honored Dehn with its annual Kevin E. Quinlan Award for Excellence in Traffic Safety during a ceremony Dec. 5 in Washington, D.C.

This award is the fourth national award Dehn has received for his work in the DUI enforcement area. He has received two national awards from Mothers Against Drunk Driving in 1997 and 2001, and the Paul Chapman award from the Foundation For The Improvement of Justice in 2003.

Dehn pioneered the staggered sentencing approach for repeat drunken driving offenders, which is now utilized in more than 30 states and was studied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Dehn was also the first judge in the nation to require multiple DUI offenders to go on an electronic pretrial home alcohol monitor in 1993. He also founded the Minnesota Safe Ride program and implements the longest running “Last Place of Drink” tracking program in the country.

“I am very honored to receive this award, but I share it with all the incredibly committed people who make the Safe Cab program and Staggered Sentencing program work to make our roads in Minnesota safer,” Dehn said. “I am also pleased that my 16-year ‘DUI Last Place of Drink’ tracking program has been recognized by the National Traffic Safety Board as a ‘best practice’ program to be used by judges all over the country.”

The Century Council was honored to present Dehn with the award.

“The Century Council has been fighting drunk driving for more than two decades, and we’re proud to have Judge James Dehn as a steadfast partner committed to making our roads safer,” said Ralph Blackman, president and CEO of The Century Council. “We need to continue to recognize these tireless advocates and support their efforts.”

Reducing drunken driving has been a passion of Dehn’s during his entire legal career.

“My dream is to expand the Safe Cab program beyond Minnesota to all rural counties in America,” Dehn said. “It could potentially reduce the 1.5 million DUI arrests in America by several hundred thousand.

“I am pleased that Congressman Rick Nolan is very committed to help us spread Safe Cab funding in Congress and that with our partnership with the Center For Traffic Studies at the University of Minnesota is enabling us to work with national associations, such as The Century Council and the National Beer Institute, to spread the Safe Cab model across America,” Dehn added.

Dehn explained the nonprofit organization called Minnesota Safe Ride, which along with the partnership of the participating bars and the local beer distributor (McDonald distributing–Rush City), helped launch the Isanti County Safe Cab program that has given more than 4,200 rides to more than 8,500 residents and has achieved a 60 percent reduction of DUI arrests in Isanti County for the past six years, which ranks Isanti County as the No. 1 county in Minnesota for those years.

Dehn added the organization has launched Safe Cab programs in Chisago, Wright, Sherburne, Ottertail, Rice, Kanabec and Pine counties, with Pine and Kanabec seeing a 46 percent reduction in DUI arrests since they started.

Dehn mentioned Loren Davis, owner of the Cambridge Bar & Grill, received the first MADD award in the history of the program in Minnesota and possibly the nation, according to sources within the program. Also, local Rush City beer distributor Kathy McDonald received the first Minnesota Alcohol Traffic Safety Association award given to a beer distributor in that organization’s history.

Dehn explained he pioneered the Staggered Sentencing program for repeat drunken drivers in 1998, which was reported in “Time” magazine in 2002, and has been researched by the Minnesota House Research in 2002 (producing a 50 percent reduction in recidivism) and researched in 2011 by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (with a 30 plus percent reduction in recidivism). It is utilized now in more than 30 states in the same way that it is presented at the National Judicial College and featured by the National Century Council.

Dehn also started the longest-running tracking program in the country of “Last Place of Drink,” for every drunken driver pleading before him. It is now in its 16th year; he has accumulated and analyzed more than 1,300 individual reports. This information helped him launch the judicial-bar-community-law enforcement partnership, bringing bar server training to every bar establishment in the county, which set the platform for launching the Safe Cab program.

Dehn also gets young children involved.

He initially funded and later partnered with the local Lions and Rotary clubs to create an ongoing slogan or poster contest, for middle school children, aimed at not providing alcohol to minors, held during the high school prom season.

They have run the program for the past 14 years and received the National MADD Distinguished Service Award in 2001. The winners each year shadow Dehn for a day in the courtroom.

About Kevin Quinlan (June 7, 1944 – Dec. 16, 2008)

Kevin Quinlan was the chief of the Safety Advocacy Division of the National Transportation Safety Board. Quinlan was with the Safety Board for nearly 20 years, serving as the Alcohol and Drug Program coordinator and chief of the Safety Recommendations Division.

He was instrumental in promoting state action on Safety Board recommendations to reduce fatalities, injuries and crashes in all modes of transportation. Quinlan authored five major studies for the board. Quinlan was a mentor to countless traffic safety advocates and an inspiration to the thousands of people who lost loved ones. His expert testimony led to the passage of many effective traffic safety countermeasures across this nation.

The Century Council

The Century Council is a national not-for-profit leader in the fight to eliminate drunken driving and underage drinking and is funded by distillers.

Headquartered in Arlington, Va., The Century Council promotes responsible decision-making regarding alcohol consumption, and it develops and implements innovative programs and public awareness campaigns to ignite action through strategic partnerships.

Established in 1991, The Century Council’s initiatives are highlighted at