D.O. “Spike” Helmick, retired Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol (CHP), is one of those quintessential law enforcement leaders who worked his way through the ranks from patrolman to commissioner in a career that spanned 35 years. Throughout his career, Helmick placed a high priority on safety efforts, specifically motor carrier safety, occupant protection and impaired driving enforcement.
Lately, he focuses his energy on the threat drunk driving poses to the public and to law enforcement officers. To address these concerns, Helmick works with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) as Senior Law Enforcement Consultant. He offers the following 10 ways a chief can improve impaired driving enforcement:
1. Make impaired driving deterrence and enforcement a high priority in your agency and in your community. Helmick says, “Let’s put impaired driving and traffic safety in perspective: Every 32 minutes a person is murdered, but every 12 minutes a person dies in a vehicle crash. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
estimates that alcohol was in involved in 39 percent of fatal crashes in 2004.
“While traffic safety work may not always be as exciting as other areas of law enforcement, investing resources in impaired driving prevention and occupant protection will save far more lives than many other areas of patrol. Work with city administrators and community groups to help them understand why you place a high priority on impaired driving and occupant protection enforcement. Brief these leaders on impaired driving statistics in your area and your agency’s goals to reduce these numbers. Give these leaders a way to contribute to the effort so they feel a part of the successes.”
2. Understand that impaired driving is a major threat to the public and to police officers specifically. “17,000 deaths and more than 300,000 yearly injuries are alcohol-related crash deaths, and far too many include law enforcement men and women. Over the last 10 years, more than 700 officers were killed in motor-vehicle crashes. Experts believe that impaired drivers caused significant percentage of these deaths. Help officers understand that every impaired driver deterred and arrested is one less threat to their personal safety.”
3. Determine your goals for zero impaired driving in your community. “Given new techniques for enforcing impaired driving laws and emerging technologies for preventing impaired drivers from operating vehicles, there is no doubt that in 10 to 20 years, roadways in America could be essentially free of alcohol-impaired drivers. The Washington State Patrol has set a goal to have zero drunken driving deaths in the state by the year 2030.
“Establish aggressive goals for your agency, and translate these goals and priorities throughout your departments to the individual officer level. Make sure goals include not only arrests, but also reductions in impaired driving crashes and reductions in the number of impaired drivers on roadways. Also include goals for reducing underage alcohol possession and impaired driving arrests. Hold officers, supervisors and other administrators accountable for accomplishing these goals through regular reports on progress. Recognize those departments/divisions and officers who meet agency goals and achieve enforcement excellence.”
4. Take advantage of new and emerging technology to increase effectiveness and efficiency. “Passive Alcohol Sensors" (PAS)
are just one of many technologies that allow agencies to work smarter and more effectively in DWI enforcement. Research shows the use of passive alcohol sensors can increase detection of DWI by about 50% at checkpoints and about 10% on routine patrols. Yet, only 0.5% of law enforcement officers in America currently use this technology. If all police officers used the PAS technology, DWI arrests in the U.S. could increase by an estimated 140,000 to 700,000, according to researchers.
“Investigate research-proven enforcement models, new equipment and other resources to accomplish your agency goals. Identify an officer in your agency who is a technology fanatic, and task them with identifying and implementing new DWI enforcement techniques using these new technologies and models. Explore grant funding from state highway safety offices and other sources to purchase sensors, signage and other new equipment.”
5. Advocate deterrence via highly publicized, frequent low-staffing checkpoints. “If there were a way to achieve a 64% reduction in the frequency of impaired driving (0.08 and above) on local roadways, how many police administrators would be interested? Research-proven models now exist to help leaders accomplish this type of reduction in impaired driving.
“Smart chiefs and sheriffs now place equal emphasis on stopping impaired drivers before they get behind the wheel through well-publicized, weekly sobriety checkpoints. The mega-officer, overtime-dependent efforts of the past are no longer needed. Checkpoints using only three to five officers, conducted frequently and integrating publicity, is effective.
“Currently, 40 states and the District of Columbia allow sobriety checkpoints; however, research in 2003 showed that only 11 states reported conducting statewide checkpoint as frequently as once a week. Remember, the public is on your side regarding impaired driving enforcement. More than 87% of the public supports sobriety checkpoints to help combat drunk driving, according to a Gallup survey conducted by MADD.”
6. Use saturation patrols for arrests and publicize outcomes. “Don’t just work harder, but work smarter and more visibly by conducting regular, highly publicized saturation and directed patrols in areas where frequent DWI arrests and impaired driving/single vehicle crashes occur. This approach is especially important in states that do not allow checkpoint activity.
“Remember to apply high-visibility techniques to your saturation patrol efforts through media ride-alongs and reporting of the saturation patrol outcomes. High-visibility efforts serve as a force multiplier and are critical components of this approach. The goal is to get the message out that those who choose to drive impaired stand a good chance of being stopped and arrested, not just on holidays but every day. MADD chapters can help local agencies publicize enforcement patrols and checkpoints.”
7. Training and more training. “There’s no doubt that training is key in just about every aspect of law enforcement. Standardized field sobriety testing (SFST) and drug recognition expert (DRE) training are the cornerstones of DWI enforcement. Giving officers the skills and confidence that basic and advanced training offers is a critical investment in any DWI enforcement program.
“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Criminal Justice Association recommend at least 40 hours of academy training on impaired driving along with yearly skills update courses. Don’t forget to train officers in effective courtroom testimony, as well. While defense lawyers work to invalidate portable Breathalyzer results, officers who can clearly and concisely describe an arrest become even more important in obtaining DWI convictions.
“Also, train officers to be mindful of how they notify families in fatality cases and to understand that survivors may need to view their loved one’s remains, have detailed descriptions of the crash scene and other information to better cope with their loss. MADD’s Death Notification Training Course can shed valuable light on how agencies should approach this sensitive and stressful task.”
8. Decrease DWI processing time. “Agencies should invest in new reporting technology that can reduce the time officers spend completing DWI arrest reports. The Texas Municipal Police Association has developed an online reporting system that can not only streamline the arrest process and get officers back on the roadway, but it also gives prosecutors better information to successfully prosecute DWI cases.
“More than 700 agencies in Texas, Georgia and Oklahoma now use this standardized and simplified electronic reporting system that can cut DWI processing time by as much as 50%. For more information, contact Bryan Roberts, program manager for TMPA, at (800) 848-2088 or at email@example.com. Also, consider assigning trained officers to take over the processing of DWI suspects after patrol officers make the initial stop.
“Some states have even re-codified DWI laws to make them easier to understand and enforce. Sometimes basic changes in documentation and evidence handling techniques can lead to more DWI convictions, so take a careful look at best practice procedures, and be willing to change your protocol if necessary. Work with local prosecutors to identify necessary updates and system changes.”
9. Take underage drinking prevention and enforcement efforts seriously. “Treat all underage drinking incidents consistently and aggressively. Research shows that zero-tolerance laws have reduced young drivers’ alcohol-involved crashes by 20%. Remember that alcohol is the number one drug of choice among teens in America and kills more young people than all illicit drugs combined. The more youths drink, the more likely they are to drink and drive or ride in a car with a driver who has been drinking.
“In addition to both special and ongoing enforcement patrols to arrest underage impaired drivers, work with local young people to change community attitudes that too often condone or even encourage underage drinking. Young people report that it is easy to get alcohol, especially from adults who break the law by supplying, providing, purchasing or accepting this activity as a “rite of passage.”
“MADD's Youth In Action
program encourages teens to work with local law enforcement officers via retails compliance checks and shoulder tap surveys. Make it clear in your community that it is illegal for adults and older peers to buy alcohol for teens.”
10. Team up with community stakeholders. “It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Similarly, it takes a community effort to stop the tragedy of drunk driving. Reach out to community groups in your area, and you will be surprised at the level of support and assistance you receive. First, make sure to refer crash victims to Mothers Against Drunk Driving for free victim assistance. This group is also committed to helping deter drunk driving, so ask MADD victim/survivors, volunteers and staff to help out at low-manpower sobriety checkpoints.
“In addition, many MADD chapters hold appreciation events to recognize enforcement excellence, help with media outreach for high visibility efforts and train young people to be youth advocates against underage drinking. Also, involve your auxiliary police, police cadets, enforcement explorer posts and even the emergency nurses and local medical community. As you know, the tragedy of drunk driving has affected millions of Americans. Once you reach out to make eliminating drunk driving a community effort, you’ll find a wealth of support.”
It’s time to rethink and retool impaired driving enforcement efforts across our country to take advantage of new technologies and techniques. Get aggressive and get visible in your deterrence and enforcement activities to better protect your community and your officers.Janet Dewey-Kollen is a longtime traffic safety advocate and has worked at the local, state and national levels. She is also a freelance writer and a child passenger safety technician. E-mail Janet with topic requests at firstname.lastname@example.org.