Saturday, May 24, 2008

Last night's DUI checkpoint.

Rain. More rain. Although the area is in a drought and the rain is much-needed, it quashed most of the DUI checkpoint action. Too many safety issues, so the supervisor called it off after about 2 hours. During that time, he'd had to call off the line four times. However, as a civilian observer, it was still fascinating.

Law enforcement officers from all over central Florida volunteered to take part. County sheriffs, highway patrol, local city police. Everything was planned and organized, and this time we were part of the initial briefing with the LEOs, so we got to hear their instructions rather than the 'stay out of the way' basics we'd had the last time. There was a gang member contact and a drug dog for those who might need them. Translators were available. The officers were also given the 'official' language of approaching drivers so that any arrests would stand up in court.

And, as the supervisor said, they mostly catch the stupid ones. The checkpoint is announced well in advance, yet people with suspended licenses, drugs, vehicle safety issues as well as those who have been drinking don't detour around it.

At 9 PM, all northbound traffic was funneled into the left traffic lane. Every car was stopped, and every driver was greeted with a polite variation on , "Hi, I'm Officer XX with the XX. We're doing a safety check. May I see your license, please?" One officer checked the license and the other walked around the car looking for bald tires, faulty lights, etc. If there were problems of any sort (one driver simply stuck his hands out the window, ready to be cuffed, since he was driving on a suspended license), the cars were moved to the right hand lanes and the officers took care of whatever needed to be done. There were table set up for booking, vans to take prisoners to the jail, the BAT (breath analyzer testing) Mobile, and, of course, tables of food. Our invitation to be allowed to watch included donating desserts. But there was a lot more, and because of the rain and people being called back inside, it disappeared faster than usual. The MADD coordinator on site was on the phone getting more donations of pizza by ten PM. However, the desserts were still plentiful. We volunteers know how to fill a food table.

Even in the short times the line was operational, a lot of cars were pulled out for violations. As I said before, some people are stupid, driving through a police checkpoint with drugs and alcohol in plain sight, or plain smell. And why not buckle your seatbelt? There are 'click it or ticket' signs and ads all over the place. Oh, yeah. They catch mostly the stupid folks.

Considering all the effort put into coordinating this event, it's a shame they couldn't have had better weather. But the officers were all friendly, and tolerated my questions when things were slow. I learned that the big case behind the motorcycle holds the officer's laptop. And that they have PDAs for writing tickets. And that they're not all well-versed in firearms. One officer I spoke to had been with the police explorers since the age of 14, then in the auxiliary, then moved to Florida and went through the academy. He knows how to shoot his gun, how to clear it and clean it, but he said he wouldn't recognize the make and model of anything other than the Glock he carries. (Which is one reason most departments require all officers to carry the same kind of weapon—in case they need to use another officer's gun, they'll know how it works).

All in all, an interesting and informative evening. Too bad the cops couldn't get more impaired drivers off the road, or at least give them a wake up call.

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