On patrol

Ryan Ross
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Guardian reporter hits the road with RCMP officers in search of impaired drivers

Around 6 p.m. on Dec. 7 I get into a retro RCMP cruiser outside the detachment in Montague where I get some simple instructions.

Don’t print any names I hear on the radio, and if the officer with me gets shot or hurt, pick up the radio and call for help.

With that, Sgt. Leanne Butler pulls the cruiser out of the detachment parking lot and heads down the road to set up the first of several check stops of the night in Kings County.

It’s all part of a national day of enforcement, and for the Kings District RCMP the officers are on the lookout for drunk drivers.

As we wait for the other officers to arrive, Butler walks me through some of the things they look for when they do a check stop: bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, poor motor skills. But mostly it’s the smell of alcohol, Butler says.

They set up just outside Montague and cars start to slow down when they see the five or six cruisers parked on the side of the road with their lights flashing.

It’s on a section of road that’s well lit where cars can safely pull over because Butler says they need at least one car on each side of the road for safety reasons.

“The more the merrier.”

I stay close to Butler, following her as she walks up to cars, shines her flashlight through the windows and leans in to talk to the drivers.

It gets her a little closer to try and catch a whiff of liquor, tio determine if the driver has been drinking.

Butler asks each of them a few questions and makes a little small talk while still asking the main questions, like if they have any liquor in the vehicle.

She later tells me it’s to get them talking to see if their speech is slurred.

It doesn’t take long before the officers start pulling people over the side for various infractions, including Butler, who nabs one driver whose licence expired.

She gives him the choice to either get someone to pick him up or tow the car.

A few minutes later his wife arrives and they drive off, $175 poorer.

Butler gives a few more warnings over the next hour or so, but like the rest of her colleagues, she doesn’t catch any drunk drivers. She didn’t expect to because drunk drivers don’t usually get caught in the check stops.

“It’s more educational,” she said.

That doesn’t mean it never happens.

Butler tells me she was working a check stop once when a guy pulled up, fell out of his car and thought he was on a TV show because of all the lights.

“When you’re that drunk it’s good that we had the checkpoint,” she said.

With P.E.I. routinely having the dubious distinction of some of the highest incidents of drunk driving convictions in the country, I expected to see more of them on the roads. More so because Island RCMP arrested four people for impaired driving in the week my ride-along, including two in Kings County.

It doesn’t happen that night as the RCMP across the province stop almost 4,400 vehicles at 16 checkpoints and don’t catch a single drunk driver.

Despite the slight inconvenience of having to stop for the police, most of the drivers greet Butler with a smile and don’t seem put out by having to answer her questions, or wait for the quick check of their vehicles. That includes one pregnant woman who Butler stop and tells she’s looking for drunk drivers.

“I’m definitely not impaired,” the woman says as she pats her belly.

The RCMP aren’t the only ones who seem to be worried about drunk drivers as more than one person Butler stops tells her they never drink and drive. That includes one man who says he bought a truck to protect himself from the drunk “fools” on the road.

The first check stop ends and the officers regroup over coffee and a few bowls of chilli to warm up after spending almost two hours in the cold.

Once everyone has had a chance to warm up, we head back out on the road with two cars splitting off from the rest to set up a check stop in Murray River.

Staff Sgt. Dave Thibeau lights some flares and plants them on the road as Butler parks her cruiser near a street light next to an otherwise dark intersection.

We’re barely out of the car before Butler nabs another driver with an expired licence and hands out another fine.

It’s the most excitement we get at the check stop, but that’s just fine with Butler.

“Excitement for us, something bad for somebody else.”

By the time the flares burn down to small piles of ash we’re all ready to get out of the biting cold wind and move on to patrol some of the roads to see if we can catch any drunk drivers that way.

We cover a lot of ground in the cruiser but pass dozens of side roads along the way that go unpatrolled and it’s obvious why some people feel they can get away with driving drunk in some parts of the province.

As we head along Route 4 toward Souris, Butler says there has been a change in recent years when it comes to catching drunk drivers and a lot more people are calling to report them.

“We can’t be everywhere, obviously,” she says.

Back at the Montague detachment, we catch up with Thibeau and another officer when we pull in for a pit stop.

Thibeau tells me impaired driving is one of the RCMP’s enforcement priorities and it’s a major concern because it has affected so many families in P.E.I.

“We want to stop impaired driving because we are losing family, friends and we’re losing moms and dads, brothers and sisters to people that are affected by impaired driving so we’re going to be combatting that,” he said.

rross@theguardian.pe.ca

twitter.com/ryanrross

 

Quick stats:

Dec. 7 National Impaired Driving Enforcement Day by the numbers:

- Number of vehicles checked: 4,390

- Number of checkpoints: 16

- Number of person hours at checkpoints: 66.5

- Number of roadside alcohol screening tests: 3

- Number of impaired drivers caught: 0

 

 

Organizations: RCMP

Geographic location: Montague, Kings, P.E.I. Murray River

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Recent comments

  • don
    December 14, 2013 - 16:48

    we may not like being stopped by police lol. but if you have done nothing wrong then you are ok. but i know this we would be in a lot of trouble with out the police they have a thankless job but i for one thank them very much they have a dangerous job you may not think so but they do next time you get a chance ask them to tell you what was the most dangerous they have ever had? so to all police on PEI thank you and may you all go home to you love ones safe.

  • Islander
    December 14, 2013 - 13:31

    Great work by the RCMP and great reporting and awareness on this very serious problem of Impaired Drivers. I would hope Charlottotown,Summerside and Kensington Police Services are taking the same approach. Driving while drinking is totally unacceptable and the more of this enforcement the better.