Sunday, September 02, 2007

Labor Day DUI Checkpoint

I'm not normally a night owl, but it was worth staying up all night to observe the Labor Day DUI checkpoint. Admittedly, it's not the optimal way to catch drunk drivers (except the REALLY stupid ones), but it provides awareness. MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) was out reminding people that driving drunk is not a victimless crime by displaying a huge banner with pictures of victims. If it makes people think twice about drinking and driving, it's of value to the community.

As members of the Civilian Police Academy Alumnae, we were allowed to be present and observe our law enforcement officers in action. Whether or not our promise to provide desserts had anything to do with the decision is up for debate. "Real" food – pizza, chicken wings, etc., was donated by local restaurants.

We were issued orange reflective vests and told we could go out on the line and observe as long as we stayed out of everyone's way and were alert in case people got angry and jumped cones or pulled weapons.

The setup was in front of the county fairgrounds and included the mobile field testing van, a couple of 'paddy wagons', tables for interviews and booking, all brightly lit by portable lighting (with noisy generators). The active "line" extended for several blocks and checked every westbound car. The DOT was also checking truckers. Turns out about 90% of the drugs entering the state come in on the big rigs.

First observation: Cops DO eat doughnuts. And with very little guilt. They also eat brownies, cookies, and just about everything else on the tables. Only one asked if there was fresh fruit, but was happy enough to eat sweets when there wasn't any. I'd considered bringing it, but fruit salad isn't finger food, and all the necessary accoutrements would have complicated matters, so I opted for cookies. Note: if you transfer the contents from the store box to a foil pan, people assume you baked them. I'm a decent cook, but I don't turn on my oven in August.

It was a hot August night, and we provided cold water down the line as well. I was impressed with the professionalism of the LEOs, and there were a lot of them from many neighboring community forces. All were happy to talk to us, and would explain what they were doing. I also enjoyed listening to the way they talked to each other when they weren't checking cars and drivers. Jargon makes the writing more authentic. I will admit I've never been called 'ma'am' so many times in my life. But every cop was enthusiastic in thanking us for food and water. Seems a small price to pay for what they're doing for us every day. I got to meet Cocoa, the drug dog, watch field sobriety tests, see a lot of people in handcuffs and hear a lot of stories. I also breathed more exhaust fumes than I care to think about.

Every driver was asked for license and registration. The cops worked in pairs, one checking the vehicle, the other talking to the driver. While the majority of tickets and arrests weren't for DUI, they snagged a lot of people driving with suspended licenses, equipment violations (mostly overly tinted windows). And the ones too stupid to get rid of their drugs paraphernalia or open containers before reaching the officers (or turning off onto the side streets and avoiding the line entirely—by law, they had to put up signs that there was a checkpoint ahead). I did feel sorry for the guy in the taxi whose driver didn't avoid the route because I know he ended up paying a premium in 'wait time' on the meter.


Cindy Spencer Pape said...

Very cool, Terry. I have no doubts this will end up as some very nice versiilitude in a book soon!

Anita Birt said...

Thanks Terry. The RCMP patrol the roads on Vancouver Island. They co-operate with the local cops to set up road blocks. And they do catch speeders and DUI.

It's amazing how reasonably sane people will take one or two drinks too many and get behind the wheel and truly believe they are fit to drive.

Anita Birt

Mona Risk said...

Good for you, Terry, for enforcing the law against drunk drivers. My best friend almost lost her life because of a drunk driver. After three months in the coma she survived. But had permanently lost her right eye. She was lucky. Two other friends lost their sons on prom night because of a drunk driver.
What you are doing is wonderful.


Jenyfer Matthews said...

How interesting! You almost make me want to start writing mysteries / crime novel just so I can have a legitimate excuse to go hang around with cops :)

(Of course the thing that springs to mind is that episode of Friends where Ross, Chandler and Joey do a ride-along with Phoebe's cop boyfriend - hysterical!)

Terry said...

I didn't watch Friends (my kids did), but I did a ridealong a month or so ago. It's buried in the archives here somewhere.

I have nothing but respect for these people. Let's face it -- when there's gunfire, they run TOWARD it on our behalf.

Sandra Cox said...

Great blog, Terry, and good for you for taking part in this.