By Jordan W. Charness
Montreal, Quebec – “So how many do you think we will catch tonight?” was my question. We were not talking about catching fish. This conversation was more serious than that. It was just after midnight and I was in my friend Sgt. McGrath’s police car. We were off to join the team conducting a roadblock to catch drunk drivers.
I was pleased to note that his answer was that things were getting better and very often they could go an entire shift without catching more than one or two drivers who were driving with an excess of alcohol in their bloodstream. Unfortunately the closer you get to the holidays, the more people tend to drink and drive. The numerous highly publicized roadblocks are aimed at reminding people not to get behind the wheel of their car if they had alcohol to drink.
I also wanted to know if there was a quota of drunk drivers that had to be arrested on each shift. The answer was no, but interestingly, each road block could only catch a maximum of five or six impaired drivers before having to shut down. The reason for this is that every time a drunk driver is arrested two police officers have to escort him or her to the police station. The police officers stay with them throughout the entire testing and booking procedure. Once the roadblock has run out of cops the operation is shut down.
This should have given me an inkling of just how complicated and how much work goes into making these types of arrests. To our great surprise our roadblock pulled over four drunk drivers in the first 15 minutes. This almost used up all the police officers we had available! The whole procedure was fascinating to watch.
All the traffic is funnelled into one or two lanes and each driver is asked if they had been drinking. If the police officer has any reason at all to suspect that the driver may have had too much to drink they’re asked to take a roadside breathalyser test. That same officer escorts the driver to the side of the road where he explains in detail what is happening. The driver is given the pocketbook-sized machine and told to blow into it. The officer tells them to keep blowing for about 10 seconds until the machine has registered a reading.
Both the police officer and the driver watch the results pop up on the LED screen. If the machine reads “fail” the police officer explains to the driver that he or she is now to be placed under arrest. They are allowed to lock up their car and are then escorted into the back seat of a police car. The accused is supposed to be handcuffed but if he is cooperative the police officer may dispense with handcuffs. He is told that he will now have to go to a central booking station for a full breathalyser test.
This roadblock had been set up a couple of blocks away from a popular pub. The people being pulled over tended to be young. I paid particular attention to two drivers, one male and one female. They were both cooperative and were somewhat upset at what was going on. They seemed more upset with themselves and what they had done than with their handling by the police.
The man look particularly drunk and I was curious as to what would happen when he took a full breathalyser test. The woman told the police that she had been drinking and admitted to having drunk a few beers but appeared to be relatively sober.
They were both taken down to an Operation Centre, one of about five of the stations in the M. U.C. with holding cells and qualified breathalyser technicians. Nowadays with the advent of community police stations, most of the local police stations do not have jail cells and anyone who has to be detained for whatever reason is taken to one of the operation centres.
The Sergeant in charge of this particular detention centre that night was Sgt. Lise Proulx. She is the one who had to coordinate the police officers and the detainees. She had ultimate say over who gets released and who must stay and is also responsible for the safety of the police officers as well as those who are arrested.
The operation centre is a large bleak cement building with few doors and even fewer windows. It contains offices, cells, booking rooms, investigation rooms and the breathalyser machines.
The police policy is to release all those who are charged with minor crimes as soon as their processing is finished or in the case of drunk drivers when they are sober enough to no longer be a danger to themselves or anyone else. They do not have to be completely sober since they’re not allowed to drive for 15 days after being arrested for drunken driving.