SPRINGFIELD, Ore. (KMTR) -- One of the biggest party events of the year, Super Bowl XLVI (46) is just days away. While its something the majority of American’s look forward to, the Super Bowl parties can lead to big problems on the road.
Over Super Bowl weekend 2011, two people died in crashes on Oregon’s roads. Meanwhile, Oregon State Police officers arrested 59 drivers. In Eugene – Springfield, at least 12 drivers went to jail for driving under the influence of intoxicants, or DUII.
However, while drunk driving arrests usually surge during special event days like the Super Bowl, the event days are just a snapshot of the larger problem.
So how are local police in Western Oregon combating the problem? To get an inside look, NewsSource 16’s cameras followed Springfield Police on a typical Friday night to see how their officers encounter and respond to the problem.
Any given night, Officer Tom Speldrich of Springfield Police is one of the officers looking for impaired drivers.
Ofc. Speldrich has worked at Springfield Police for about 3 and a-half years. For about two years of that time, he’s worked as the department’s dedicated DUII patrol officer. In addition, Ofc. Speldrich is specifically trained as a “drug regcognition expert / evaluator” or a “D.R.E.” The program consisting of more than a week of classes and a week of field certifications where officers look for the effects of multiple substances, beyond alcohol.
“It's basically almost like a crash course, in so many different technical subjects, we're not doctors, we're not scientists, we're still cops,” says Officer Speldrich. “This class we go through, we learn about basic human anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, we also have to be able to apply these different things into a law enforcement setting.”
D.R.E. officers are often called in to help investigate impaired driving related incidents.
“They come in and do this standardized 12 step evaluation that's a lot more in depth than a normal DUII evaluation. Alcohol is only one substance that can impair you and cause you to get a DUII,” says Ofc. Speldrich.
“It builds stronger cases, better courtroom testimony, but it also allows the street cop whose been through the training to recognize signs of impairment, other than alcohol,” says Ofc. Speldrich.
Less than one percent of police officers across the U.S. are trained as D.R.E.'s. Springfield Police has three trained D.R.E. officers out of around 70 sworn officers. Most departments the size of Springfield only have one trained D.R.E. officer. A fourth officer will likely be trained in D.R.E. soon as well.
The D.R.E. program is one way Springfield Police combat drunk driving. The problem is widespread.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, around 11,000 people are killed in impaired driving related crashes each year. Around 1 million drivers will be arrested for impaired driving in the U.S. each year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice.
From February 2011 to February 2012, Officer Speldrich arrested 202 drivers for DUII.
“I arrest a lot of normal everyday people being a DUII officer,” says Ofc. Speldrich. “It's a crime that people from all walks of life commit.”
NewsSource 16's cameras followed Officer Speldrich on a Friday night in January 2012. The work starts for officers almost immediately, looking for minor traffic infractions like speeding.
“A lot of what I do is, is I stop cars for just basic traffic violations like that and that's what leads to me figuring out whether or not somebody is impaired,” says Ofc. Speldrich.
Out of the two drivers stopped first, one is given a warning for speeding, the other is cited.
“My goal is to not just go and hang a bunch of tickets on people about the importance of driving safely and of course, take those off the road that aren't,” says Officer Speldrich.
Speeding is a prime factor officers looked for in impaired drivers, but a failure multitasking is another.
“They may be driving straight, they may be driving the speed limit, but if something like you know a cat walks out on the sidewalk or something it might catch their attention and before you know it, they're clear in the other lane,” says Ofc. Speldrich.
After about an hour on patrol, a driver is spotted swerving on 42nd Street heading towards Main Street. The decision is made to pull the driver over.
After making contact with the driver. Officer Speldrich takes a look at the driver's eyes and asks several times if he's been drinking. The driver admit to taking a prescription pain killer called “Norco” and Ibuprofin for an injury, but no alcohol. Officer Speldrich then asks the driver to submit to a field sobriety test.
“He might be a DUII. He's got this lethargic to him,” says Ofc. Speldrich.
The driver agrees to a field sobriety test. First, he's asked to track a pen with only his eyes. Second, the driver is asked to take several paces, counting each step while looking down and keeping his arms to his side. Third, the driver is asked to stand on one foot while holding the other up, looking down at that foot and counting. Finally, the driver is asked to say several letters of the alphabet and count.
After the tests, Officer Speldrich questions the driver again if he has drank anything. Again, the driver says no.
“What do you think is impairing you right now?” asks Officer Speldrich.
“What do I think is impairing me?” the driver asks back.
“Yeah... maybe you can help me hit it off,” says Ofc. Speldrich.
“I don't know. I'm sorry I took my medication, they didn't tell me I couldn't drive on my medication,” says the driver.
“Do you think your meds make you a little loopy?” asks Ofc. Speldrich.
“Well, it's pain medication, so, yeah,” says the driver.
“OK, well you're under arrest for DUI, go ahead and put your hands behind your back,” replied Ofc. Speldrich.
The driver is taken to the Springfield Jail and booked for DUII. There, he is offered around 15 to 20 minutes to use the phone and make multiple calls. The driver refuses a breathalyzer test. His bail is set at $2,500 as another DUII arrest pops up on the driver's record in the last 10 years.
“They don't intend to hurt anybody in fact they don't want to hurt anybody, but none the less, they're still just as dangerous as the person that does intend to hurt somebody.” says Officer Speldrich.
Jail guards take the driver's possessions and he is put in a jail cell. If bail isn't posted in Springfield and you're arrested on a Friday night, often times, the arrested will spend the weekend in jail until they can go to an initial court appearance.
After writing an initial report, Officer Speldrich its the streets again to continue his patrol.
“Any given night, there's so many DUII's that probably drive by us that we don't even get stopped,” says Ofc. Speldrich. “They're always out there.. And it's just a matter of us getting the right car stopped at the right time.”
While the problem remains, Officer Speldrich believes his department is making progress in the fight against impaired driving.
“I think we're making great progress. I worked in Springfield before we opened the jail and now I work here after and its getting harder to find DUII drivers on the street,” says Ofc. Speldrich.