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Law Enforcement Today | December 22, 2014

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DUI -The Unrecognized Victims

DUI -The Unrecognized Victims
E. P. Sizemore

We are all familiar with the typical victims created by the DUI driver. We are most familiar with the people injured or killed by the drunk driver, their families, and friends. We are aware of their loss of life or earning abilities and the how this affects the lives of so many people.

We are also familiar with other victims. These victims are composed of: the families of the drunk driver, the drunk driver, and the financial loss each of us suffer at the hand of the drunk driver.

The one victim that is also affected by the drunk driver receives no mention. These are the police officers patrolling our streets.

These officers suffer the same sorrows as the other victims along with many that are unique only to them. These officers do not recognize this or would they classify themselves as victims.  Police officers suffer both injuries and death in automobile crashes caused by these drunk drivers. When this occurs they and their families suffer the same hardships and agony as the civilian population.

There are many unique ways that the police officer is a victim, as a result of performing their duties as a police officer. These are rarely recognized or mentioned by the public.  The injuries or death in automobile crashes are the least of the police officer’s risk. The most common of these are the following:

Emotional Injury

When there is a DUI fatality or injury, the police officer is usually the first on the scene. He sees the victims and then is required to notify the families and loved ones of the victim.   He experiences emotions that he has to hide without being able to express them. He keeps these emotions concealed.  He must leave the scene of a DUI fatality and then make a DUI arrest without letting his emotions guide his actions.

When he makes a DUI arrest, his actions can expose him to emotional, financial, and physical risk.  In some cases, this passes on to his family. Though he has sympathy for the driver and the driver’s family, he must not let that affect his actions. This again creates additional stress.  When he goes home at night, these feelings remain unresolved.

Injury to Family

The police officers have a high frequency of divorce which can be attributed to his work.   The officer that specializes in DUI enforcement are more at risk.  The emotional problems resulting from the inability to express their feelings carry over into their home life and can affect their marriage.

They have a tendency to take these feelings out on their spouse or have the inability to express emotion at home. Either of these extremes are not conducive to a good marriage. Even if the marriage survives, there is the demand on the officer’s time. Time that he should be spending with the family is consumed in court and paperwork.

The making of a DUI arrest requires hours of overtime (this usually happens at the last of the shift or when special family events are planned) completing paper work, and court attendance. Few spouses can accept this.

Physical Injuries Sustained While Apprehending and Arresting Suspects.

Although there are no statistics available, one of the largest causes of injuries to police officers is the result of dealing with the impaired person. These injuries result in loss of man hours for the departments and loss of income for the officers. In many cases the inability to cope with the pain and disabilities caused by these injuries leads to suicide.

Any time a police officer attempts to make a traffic stop on a drunk driver or confronts one, he is placing himself in a high-risk situation. If the driver fails to stop, the officer must initiate pursuit. There is a high risk of injury to all parties involved including the general public. If the driver stops, the officer faces additional risk from the traffic stop, field testing and possible arrest. Once he confronts the driver, makes a determination, and initiates an arrest, he has a high potential for resistance on the part of the suspect, due to their impairment. If a suspect resists arrest, the officer is dealing with a person with poor judgment who feels no pain. The officer is more subject to be injured. If the officer manages to survive the pursuit, the stop, and the arrest of the suspect, the case is then subject to review of all his actions by the courts, department and the public scrutiny.

Professional Injuries

Administratively, DUI enforcement is not politically popular until it is mandated by the public. Many departments, though they publicly promote DUI enforcement, do not want strict enforcement. The administrators receive pressure from the public demanding increased patrols of neighborhoods to prevent burglaries. They receive complaints about time required to respond to minor calls. They receive complaints from those apprehended for DUI and related traffic enforcement. The suspects, their families, and friends feel that since no one was injured, the arrest was not justified.

Administrators receive fewer complaints for NOT making a DUI arrest. They lose two to four hours each time an officer makes such an arrest in addition to an equal amount of court time. In addition to the arrest time there is time testifying for other officers, testing for officers, and expert witnesses testimony in court. This takes an officer off the streets for almost a day each time he makes a DUI arrest. This is time that could be spent on patrol. Since it is not politically or financially advantageous to have an officer who specializes or makes DUI arrest, the officer is often considered a liability to the department.

Why Should Police Managers Encourage DUI Enforcement?

First we must answer this question.

How much is a life worth? How much is it worth to prevent serious injuries, disabilities, and lost time and property?

How do I know this?

I was a police officer for 23 years. The last 10 of those I specialized in DUI enforcement and acted as an expert witness on impairment and testing in county and circuit courts. During this time I made an excess of 500 DUI arrests and assisted other officers in an equal or greater number of cases either in testing, training, or witnessing in court.

Early in my career I became aware of the dangers created by the drunk driver and the importance of strict enforcement. I also became aware of the repercussions of doing so. This was brought home to me when I met a vehicle head on in the wrong lane. When I stopped the vehicle I found that the driver was the same person I took home the night before to spare him a DUI. In my career, I have seen both young and old drunk drivers and victims injured or killed as the result the impaired drivers.

At that time, we had no local classes, except for breath testing, on DUI enforcement. I expressed my interest to a state trooper I knew. He had attended a course on advanced breath testing. He gave me the class book and I studied it and adopted the procedures. I then enrolled in classes through the state and federal extended education programs.

I have felt the heartache of the families of the victims. I have seen the devastating affect it has on the drunk driver and how it affects his family.

I have felt the disappointment my family endured because of my absence. Fortunately I was blessed with a wife and family that loved and supported my endeavors. My wife has accepted my inability to demonstrate emotion along with my other many short comings.

In an average year I worked more than 250 hours of overtime and spend an additional 338 hours in unpaid preparation and research time.   In addition to this I had over 500 hours in specialized courses related to DUI enforcement.  I have been passed over for promotions and received criticism for my dedication to DUI enforcement.  After three years working with spinal injuries received in during enforcement actions, my early retirement was required.

Was it worth it?  The answer is “yes”.

The officers suffering the effects of their actions in making the DUI arrests do not consider themselves to be victims.

Do they regret their actions?

When looking back and remembering the cases that, had the driver not been apprehended, it was obvious there would have been serious injury or death to the driver or someone else. We remember the drivers who later came to us and told us that the arrest was the best thing that happened to them as if they had continued on their path they would have eventualy killed themselves of someone else.

Therefore the answer is “NO”.

E.P. Sizemore has 23 years law enforcement experience, ten years specializing in DUI enforcement and intoxilyzer maintenance. He has served as a state’s expert witness in court. His eldest daughter is a deputy sheriff sergeant and SWAT negotiator.  His youngest daughter is an LET staff writer with a background in crime scene investigation and probation.

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing — and well-done. As a veteran officer with nearly a quarter-century on the job, I have experienced much of the same things you have — including the fallout from taking on an overt DUI problem in a county where the DA was extremely soft on it (and where officers were not encouraged to be proactive in this area). That fallout has negatively impacted my career since. The same skills that made me a good DUI officer also made me a good investigator, although I believe that I was pushed to the latter to force me away from the former. Solution? Administrators who are also godly servant-leaders (from Sgt. to DA and judges) that will strongly encourage, support and defend proactive DUI enforcement and then back the officers who put their lives and families on the line everyday to prevent the carnage and tragedy that drug and alcohol-impaired driving brings to our communities.

  2. Well said, M.C.! I agree with you COMPLETELY!

  3. I was preparing a presentation for an upcoming class and came across this article. Thank you for putting in words what I have believed in my years of prosecuting DUI cases. The officers are also victims.

  4. In a way I have recently dealt with this problem. My oldest son is taking an Ethics class in college. His last assignment was to prepare a group presentation on legalizing marijuana. One of his arguments was that keeping marijuana illegal and the enforcement of that law was a waste of time and resources. God, Himself, provided the answer I needed as I heard myself say, ” Doing the right thing is never a waste of time or money “. When compared to alcohol, marijuana stays in your system for six months. Synthetic marijuana never leaves your system. It continues to build up.
    Back on the subject and off of my soap box. Police officers cannot consider themselves as victims. To do so would almost certainly be fatal to them and/or their careers. At best the officer has a God fearing and understanding wife or husband who understands that God is the God of law and order. Their spouse is doing the necessary work that the Lord appointed them to do.
    As with everything there must be balance. It is up to the officer to make the necessary time for his family. DUI arrests are a necessary evil and while it may feel futile; it’s not. As I said before doing the right thing is never a waste of time or money.

  5. Well said, Pat!

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