DUI From the Perspective of a Police Officer

by attorneyscottcampbell

DUI From the Perspective of a Police Officer. Who was that police officer who arrested you for DUI?  Why was he so formal?  Why did it seem like he liked it?  Also, why are they arresting people just driving home rather than looking for real criminals?  There are two basic answers.

The first you can guess. Police policy is that DUI is a problem, impaired drivers are dangerous, and they have to spend resources on all crimes, even those you may consider minor. Yes, murders get many detectives working many hours on one case. Murder is so significant that resources are poured into solving each one. But, even the most minor crime gets some time and attention. DUI falls somewhere in the middle. Resources are allocated on enforcing DUI laws, but they are not trying to catch every person driving impaired. If they were, there would be DUI checkpoints every mile.

The second and one important from the police officers’ point of view is less obvious. Money. I’ll explain. Most DUI arrests are by police officers on a DUI squad or a task force. They are out there specifically looking for DUI arrests. They are sent to training schools and are usually working at night. So where does the money come in? The police officers on these squads or task forces are generally paid assignment pay. That means they make more than a police officer assigned to patrol duties. In addition, they are called to court more often than other police officers because of the number of arrests they make and the fact that people charged with DUI routinely fight the charges. Why is that important? Court time is usually overtime. More money.

The police department I worked for would sometimes have an ad hoc DUI task force. They would pay patrol officers 8 hours overtime to work one night shift and look for DUI arrests. You were expected to make at least one arrest, or you wouldn’t be invited back for the next DUI night. So, officers would start work about 10, hang out in a coffee shop until about 1:30 a.m.; then go sit near a bar at the 2 a.m. closing time. They would look for one very drunk driver, arrest him, then return to the coffee shop until the 8-hour shift was over. Voila! Eight hours at time and a half and they get invited back the next time. Their motivation was not the DUI arrest; it was the overtime.

Police departments often get federal grants to target DUI. This is the best of both worlds for them. They get to show they are enforcing DUI laws and the police officers get their extra money, but it doesn’t show up on your tax bill. Only it does. Federal money means federal taxes – like your income taxes. The government doesn’t have any money of its own; it’s all yours. It just often isn’t showing up in the particular police department’s budget.

Now for the encounter when you are stopped. Don’t believe that they just stopped a regular traffic violator and happened to see that you were impaired. They are actually targeting specific violations that are taught to them as “cues” that the driver may be impaired. When they first encounter you, they are already looking for more information to arrest you.

The police officer will be nice but will be specific in what he is saying and telling you to do. He will ask for your license and registration. While he does need your license, he couldn’t care less about the registration. He probably already saw who the car is registered to on his computer before he got out of his car. He is trying to confuse you. Impaired drivers will often hand the police officer his license only, or they will hand the officer their license, registration, and proof of insurance; as they are taught to do when pulled over. Either of these will be “wrong” and will be cited as a “cue” that you are impaired. You see, the police officer specifically asked for your license and registration, not just the license but also the insurance card.

Next, he will ask you to get out of your car. He doesn’t care if you are in your car or out of your car (if you are getting a speeding ticket, they leave you in your car), he wants to see you walk. If your foot was asleep or the road is uneven, or even if nothing is wrong, you will naturally touch your car for balance. Another “cue.” Then, he will ask to “check your eyes” and have you do some balance tests to “see if you are ok to drive.” He is not checking to see if you are ok to drive home, he is gathering evidence to arrest you. I could go into excruciating detail o how the balance tests are set up, but suffice it to say that a sober person would have a difficult time passing the tests.

Once the officer thinks he has enough “cues,” he will arrest you and take you to a station or DUI van for breath or blood testing. He will probably tell you that if you are cooperative, you will be released from the station and not taken to the county jail. You, of course, don’t want to go to jail, so you are now set up for the coup de grâce.

The police officer will ask you a series of scripted questions and carefully write down exactly what you say. One of the questions is a trick question. It goes like this: on a scale of 1 to 10, with one being completely sober and ten being falling down drunk, how impaired do you think you were when you are stopped. Of course, you had something to drink, but you don’t think it affected you, so you say “2” or “3.” You just lost your case. You see the law says it is DUI to be impaired to the slightest degree. Anything other than a “1” and you have just admitted to DUI.

So, that is DUI from the police officer’s point of view. Stay tuned for my next installment, DUI from the attorney’s point of view.

Next in this series : DUI From the Perspective of an Attorney


DUI From the Perspective of a Police Officer