A DUI Ride-a-long Expereince
Our goal at No DUI Larimer is to end impaired driving in Larimer County. We partner with other safety-minded organizations, share ideas at monthly committee meetings, subscribe to news organizations and scientific journals, and have experiences out in our community – all to be aware of what’s happening in Northern Colorado. We want to provide you with the latest data, research, and trends so you can Make the Right Call for yourself and those around you.
One of our committee members recently went on a ride-along with a DUI enforcement officer in Loveland, Colorado, to experience firsthand a “day in the life” of a DUI enforcement officer and have a face-to-face conversation about challenges our community faces.
I met with the officer at the Loveland Police Station at 7 p.m. on a Friday. Through our introductions, I learned that he is a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE), an officer who has received specialized training to recognize impairment in drivers under the influence of drugs other than, or in addition to, alcohol. A DRE understands the physiological effects of drugs on the human body and how the body demonstrates impairment by different categories of drugs.
A DUI officer looks for behavioral and physical cues to indicate that someone is under the influence of drugs. I was able to observe a traffic stop, roadside sobriety test, and arrest during my ride-along. While he conducted a roadside sobriety test, I observed the officer using a mix of contextual, behavioral, and physiological clues to determine not only what drug the suspect had likely used, but also within what time frame.
The following are some of the insights he shared.
Q: What motivated you to get into this line of work?
A: Most of all, I like talking to people. I learn a lot by interacting with people, conducting roadside tests, and looking at their history of interactions with law enforcement – it gives me lots of information about a person, and I like putting those clues together to get a picture of what’s going on.
Q: What have you found most surprising about DUI enforcement?
A: You see people who drive – especially under the influence of alcohol – extremely intoxicated. Imagine you are the drunkest you have ever been in your life, the room is spinning and you can’t walk, and you are still attempting to operate a vehicle. Every time I see someone in that state attempting to drive, it is always a surprise.
Q: What is most predictable about your job?
A: Dishonesty is predictable, and it is very obvious to us when someone is being dishonest. We see it a lot, and we know all the signs.
Q: What do you look for or what do you notice when pulling over someone you suspect of being under the influence?
A: It’s more than just making a mistake while driving – we all do that. There are patterns of driving behavior. There is also context, for example if the driver is leaving a hotel known for drug use. Even if I receive a call about someone, I still must have cause to pull them over. I have to personally observe something.
I use everything I observe and everything I know to create that picture of what’s going on. I don’t want to arrest someone with no reason – that is not a good situation for anyone. I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s night. My job is to make sure people are driving safe.
Q: What about drinking or drug use and driving do you find people just don’t seem to understand?
A: Many people don’t realize that you can get a DUI for using drugs. I also encounter people who think they are exempt from getting a DUI when they have used prescription drugs, like Xanax.
Note: In Colorado, you can get a DUID (Driving Under the Influence of Drugs) for driving impaired under the influence of any drug – legal or illegal – and incur the same penalties as an alcohol-related DUI.
Q: If you had a magic wand and could make one big, sweeping change to people’s attitudes or behaviors about impaired driving, what would you change?
A: I think culture gives you an impression of what’s okay or not, and some people still think a DUI is acceptable. As a DUI enforcement officer, this type of crime seems to be almost universal – I see every type of person committing DUI offenses. A lot of times, people think they didn’t do anything wrong, and [that needs to change].
Q: What excuses did you commonly hear for why someone chose to get behind the wheel impaired?
A: Lots. “My Uber was going to take too long,” “I just live down the street,” “I had some water so I’m fine,” “I didn’t feel drunk,” “It’s been an hour since my last drink.”
Q: What ramifications should people be aware of if they get a DUI…or multiple?
A: The financial aspect is huge, and of course losing your license. By driving in Colorado, you are giving what’s called Express Consent to drug testing. If you refuse a blood test for drugs or a breathalyzer test for alcohol, you automatically lose your license for one year. But you still have to get to school or to work, so you drive without a license. Then you get arrested again, and lose your license for even longer. You get stuck in this cycle.
A DUI is also one of those crimes that we consistently see people lose their jobs for. Most employers in our area do fire you for a DUI. And, your fourth DUI offense is always a felony.
Q: Have you seen any poly-substance abuse trends in our area?
A: I don’t see many people drunk and under the influence of drugs in this area. What I see more often is people using combinations of drugs.
Q: Are you seeing any trends with teens and young adults?
A: DUIs are the most common criminal offense for people in that age group who aren’t really in that “criminal world.” Kids still drink and drive. A lot of young people do smoke weed and drive, or they have it in their car after they are done with it, which is still a crime.
Q: Tell me about what you are seeing with opioid use in our area.
A: Fentanyl is very common now, very easy to get, and replacing meth in our community. When someone is driving under the influence of fentanyl, it is very different from driving under the influence of meth. People who have used meth are usually in a hurry when they’re driving. With fentanyl, we find people passed out at the wheel. Most of my arrests now involve fentanyl.
Q: What is the worst or most challenging part of your day?
A: I spend more time in court than most people realize – probably more than any other division.
Q: What is the best part of your day?
A: You’ll hear me say a lot that I like talking to people. I get to meet different types of people. Talking to kids, teenagers, is fun. I like to talk about music with them and just be goofy.
Q: Do you have any impact stories to share?
A: Usually the times I feel like I’ve made an impact are with young people. My style as a police officer is very laid-back. I want people to be honest, so I’m friendly and polite. I play music during booking, try to make people laugh by poking fun at the people I work with. Yes, they’ve made a bad decision – and they are going to face those consequences. I want to give them a positive experience with the police in a bad situation.
No DUI Larimer encourages all of our readers: Educate yourself about how alcohol and drugs affect you and how you can avoid driving impaired – take charge of your future. Make the Right Call.