Last Friday marked the beginning of the 16-day “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign that involves more than 250 law enforcement agencies throughout the state.
Don Bickel, director of Marion County Traffic Safety Partnership, works with local agencies to coordinate the county’s campaign.
Bickel said the partnership represents the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD), Beech Grove, Lawrence, Speedway, and Cumberland agencies, while also working with the Indiana State Police District 52.
He said this particular campaign is funded through grants.
“The blitzes are funded through the Governor’s Council on Impaired and Dangerous Driving,” Bickel said. “This ... funding (is) through an Operation Pullover grant that we received that funds local agencies. This particular blitz, which started on March 8 and which will conclude on March 24, is geared to impaired driving and aggressive driving.”
Bickel said part of what he does is help the agencies secure the funding.
“We obtain the grant funding,” he said. “My office is within the Marion County Prosecutor’s office. I obtain the funding for all different types of traffic safety grants. I then designate the type of enforcement we’ll do and I work with each department as a coordinator and we will coordinate efforts and basically we’ll set up DUI patrols. We do other things throughout the whole year, this is just a blitz period.”
He added that officers from all of the agencies work together during these types of blitzes.
“The enforcement efforts that we do are multi-jurisdictional, so we’ll have officers involved from all the agencies,” Bickel said. “They’ll be working for the aggressive driving part of the blitz at high crash areas
throughout Marion County. For the DUI part of the blitz, we’ll be working high crash DUI areas, that’ll be saturation patrols along with DUI checkpoints. We do have the holiday coming in, St. Patrick’s
Day. We’re running check points throughout the weekend, along with saturation patrols.”
Bickel said for the aggressive driving portion of the blitz, officers look for certain infractions.
“Each agency is funded for a certain number of dollars to do aggressive driving enforcement,” he said. “What we’re looking for there is red light runners, excessive speeders, and people that commit more than one violation — the dangerous drivers. We’re not looking for somebody going five miles over the speed limit ... we’re looking for people that are exceeding the speed limit at a very high rate, and also running red lights and causing dangerous types of situations. Each agency has specific areas that they’re designated on our grant to operate in that are defined as high crash areas through the state crash database.”
Bickel said to crack down on impaired drivers, agencies will patrol certain areas looking for drunk drivers and utilize DUI checkpoints, which are set up in high DUI crash and arrest areas.
“We select specific areas ... and we contact business owners in that area and locate a parking lot or something where there’s a safe area and get permission to pull cars off into their parking lot,” he said. “Our DUI checkpoints are very standardized and systematic. We set up signs in all directions as cars approach the checkpoint that tells the general public (there is a) DUI checkpoint ahead — in English and in Spanish. We have police cars out in the roadway with red lights on and some officers that direct a specific number of cars in at a time. If we’re doing one at 38th (Street) and Moller Road at a business in that area ... that night, it’ll be determined we’ll pull in five cars at a time. The officers out in the street will send in five cars through our line, which is in the parking lot.”
Bickel explained how a typical stop at a checkpoint would play out.
“We’ll have officers standing there and they will greet the individuals and they’ll basically say, ‘I’m officer so-and-so, we’re working the Marion County Traffic Partnership grant for DUI enforcement. I’d like to see your driver’s license and registration please,’” he said. “They’ll take a cursory check in the vehicle and notice if there is impairment on the driver. Signs of impairment would be problems getting out his driver’s license from his bill fold, it could be a strong odor of alcohol, or it could be other signs physically in the vehicle, (like) an open container. Things like that which would clue the officer that we may have an impaired driver. Then if it is, we’ll pull the person out of the line and we’ll continue the investigation and all the other cars will continue out of the line. Then once the line is clear, we’ll bring in five more cars. Between the cars the others keep running, so we don’t slow traffic down.”
He added the officers will be administering field sobriety tests on any person who is potentially impaired.
“We’ll do field sobriety tests, (like) certified alcohol tests, which include breath and/or blood,” Bickel said. “If he’s impaired, they’d be arrested, the vehicle will be towed, and then he’ll have to face the consequences in court.”
He said the slight inconvenience is outweighed by the good these checkpoints can do.
“It’s a very minor inconvenience because we make it very fast and we’re very polite,” Bickel said. “If we see a gun in the car, illicit contraband, or the driver is impaired, we’ll have them pull out of the checkpoint line and the investigation is continued out of the line. The line continues to flow.”
Bickel said it’s important to remember that driving is a privilege.
“A driver’s license in Indiana and most states is a privilege, it’s not a right,” he said. “The person has to abide by the laws and we try to make it as easy as possible for the individual to be in and out of that checkpoint, with the least amount of inconvenience. That person doesn’t want to go down the street and get hit by a drunk driver. All the cars that travel in that area see the sign, so even the ones that don’t get pulled in, see that law enforcement is out there doing proactive drunk driving enforcement.”
According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, in 2012 there were 6,264 alcohol-related crashes in Indiana with 97 fatalities.
During the month of March, there were 524 alcohol-related crashes
and six fatalities reported. Just last year on St. Patrick’s Day, there were 33 alcohol-related crashes that occurred on Indiana roadways.