At least it isn’t -24 degrees says Cst. Eric Enkirch, putting on gloves a mere 20 minutes after donning a toque.
The Nelson police officer and three colleagues are out on the second ICBC CounterAttack roadcheck of the holiday season.
Just outside Nelson where Granite and Government Roads meet Highway 3A, the busy intersection seems chaotic with flashing lights and cars approaching without reprieve. Calm and cordial, the officers’ number one goal for the night is catching impaired drivers.
“It really is unfathomable that people still drink and drive in this day and age,” says Enkirch.
But they do and in this case, it doesn’t make officers happy to catch their criminal.
“I would love to come out here and check a million cars and not find a single impaired driver but we catch them every time.”
On this night, as a few flakes fall, officers check just over 400 cars in two locations. They hand out one suspension, tow two vehicles for no insurance and license, and make three drug seizures. One man drives up to the checkstop with a bag of marijuana obviously sitting between his legs.
It’s about asking questions and observing for these officers. They watch how people drive, give a sniff and look for physical symptoms, obviously. But there are little techniques these police have learned through experience that help them find those drivers who shouldn’t be behind the wheel.
“Sometimes it’s easy to tell. Sometimes it’s not,” Enkirch says.
Officers get special training to tell whether drivers have consumed alcohol and/or drugs. Often, they can even tell what drugs a suspect has taken.
Several drivers admit consuming one drink, a good idea considering the nose knows. Denying he’s been drinking when Enkirch could smell alcohol on his breath holds up one man who takes a breathalyzer exam.
“Why’d he lie?” asks a suspicious officer.
Alcohol affects everyone differently and there’s no formula to tell how many drinks a person can safely put back before taking their car to the road. It’s better to just not take chances, says Enkirch.
Directing traffic from all angles becomes an intricate game as officers don’t want to hold up commuters. No one seems to mind, however. Enkirch says most appreciate police work to keep drunks of the road.
“The vast majority don’t mind being inconvenienced,” he says.
In the dark of night the flashing lights of police cars are enough to make any driver’s heart rate increase and palms sweat. Add in the officers stopping cars in their bold yellow vests for visibility and the fact you know you’re next in line, it’s normal to be nervous.
“I am a police officer and I get nervous,” says Enkirch.
A quick chat and license plate check sends most drivers through.
Nelson Police may have their favourite checkstop locations but they aren’t telling. They mix it up as much as possible so “people can’t get a false sense of where we will be,” says the constable. He adds that how long they stay at any one location varies as well. Sometimes he needs that toque and mitts until the wee hours of the morning.
The Nelson Police Department held another checkstop on December 6. Several high profile locations were targeted for these stops with over 320 drivers checked that evening. Two drivers had their licenses suspended for drinking and driving. Several others were arrested for other criminal activities.
Safe driving tips for the holidays
This holiday season, Nelson police are asking people to remember the following:
• Make the right choice for everyone – don’t drive if you have been drinking or using drugs.
• You do not have to be legally drunk to be charged with impaired driving.
• Plan ahead for safe transportation. There are alternatives to impaired driving.
• If you encounter a suspected impaired driver, record the vehicle license plate number and dial 911 anywhere in the province.
Nelson police are warning drivers they’ll be out in full force this holiday season to make sure people are not getting behind the wheel after drinking.