Illinois DUI Police Agencies launch aggressive Labor Day DUI crackdown
Elizabeth A. Lehnerer
Of the Suburban Journals
St. Clair County Journal
When select officers in the Illinois State Police mobilize to crack down on drunk driving over the next two weeks, they'll take a special tool with them.
Technically called a Passive Alcohol Sensor, officers know it as a "sniffer" flashlight and it is the newest gadget in the arsenal against those who choose to drink and drive.
Lieutenant Jerry Culp, operation officer for ISP's District 11, unveiled the tool at a press conference Thursday at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site to announce the Labor Day drunk-driving crackdown, which will feature over 250 law enforcement agencies from across the state. Included are eight departments from Madison County and five from St. Clair County.
Although it looks and works like a conventional flashlight, the PAS has a sensor built into the handle that can detect alcohol on a suspect that may not be perceived by a police officer.
The "sniffer" can establish a reading within 45 seconds and only detects alcohol. The technology in the flashlight is unaffected by food, breath mints, paint and glue fumes, cigarette smoke or other substances likely to be in the air or on the breath.
"You want to get it within a foot (of the suspect) to get a good sample," Culp said. "A lot of the times, when you're out in the open, it's hard to detect if someone's been drinking and you don't want to stick your head in the car, but this will enable an officer to detect that. If you have grounds to believe (the suspect has been drinking) then you can ask them to walk the line and touch their nose."
While the PAS's findings are not admissible in court, they do give officers a reason for performing sobriety tests or administering breathalyzers.
Culp said about 100 PASs were purchased by the Illinois Department Of Transportation at a cost of around $750 each with the intent of disbursing them to ISP departments throughout the state to use during the enforcement period.
In October, after the numbers have been counted, Culp said departments that were very active in the Labor Day crackdown would be rewarded with one of the PASs.
Even without the "sniffers," the statewide Labor Day enforcement and education operation against drunk driving will be a force to reckon with.
From Friday until Sept. 4, there will be around 244 roadside safety checks, a large increase from the 150 in 2005. Saturation patrols will also reach around 1,400; last year there were only 300.
Major David Schneider, assistant chief of the Collinsville Police Department who spoke at the conference said, during saturation patrols, officers are assigned to an emphasis, like drunk driving, and strictly focus on that emphasis - not answering any other emergency calls.
The officers who participate in saturation patrols are working overtime and are paid for through federal grants.
Although Labor Day may mean a fun filled weekend of bar-b-cue, swimming and camping before cooler weather sets in, for law enforcement the holiday and the days leading up to it, is traditionally the deadliest time of year in terms of traffic fatalities even more so than Memorial Day or the Fourth of July.
"Last year, there were 19 fatalities on our roadways across the state and of that over half of them were alcohol related," said IDOT spokesman Eugene Brenning. "Statewide there were 50,000 DUI arrests last year."
Because of those numbers, IDOT, ISP, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and law enforcement departments throughout the state have teamed up.
Guideon Richeson, president of St. Clair County MADD and a funeral director for 29 years, said he has witnessed first-hand the results of drunk driving and the sorrow experienced by those left behind.
"As a funeral director, please do all that you can to prevent one of yours from becoming one of mine," he said. "My vision is to see safe travel from drunk drivers an every day affair. Responsible driving should not be limited to just Labor Day but to everyday."
Major Debra Landman of the District 11 ISP said her department would have extra officers on the street and this is the first time the ISP will utilize the 42 motorcycle officers.
Schneider said in Collinsville, police will also be working overtime and watching out for drunk drivers thanks to a state grant they've continuously received over the last seven years.
"This is the best crack-down we've ever had in the state of Illinois over Labor Day," Brenning said. "The reason is because, back in March, we as a division went out and approached all the local law enforcement agencies and asked for support in this campaign."
The campaign comes at a cost of $1.7 million to the state, which includes salaries for participating law enforcement departments, public service announcements called True Stories, and media spots informing the public of the crackdown.