WITH West Mercia and Warwickshire’s Christmas drink and drug-drive campaign in full swing, The Observer’s Tristan Harris went out with PC Laura Williams and PC Mark Bullingham last Thursday (December 8) on their latest patrol.
WE had only been out a few minutes and a report came through on the radio that there had been a crash where the driver was suspected to have been over the limit.
Almost as soon as that message had finished, the officers received some intelligence about a motorist who frequently drove after downing drinks at one of the district’s pubs.
With the make and model of the vehicle, along with the registration number, we headed for a drive around the named pub’s car park but tonight the suspected prolific offender had opted for a quiet night in.
About half-an-hour into the shift and the first car is pulled over.
The way the man was driving had led PCs Williams and Bullingham to believe he could be under the influence.
He was stopped, questioned, breathalysed and, because of the man’s previous record, a drug test was carried out.
A saliva swab was taken from the motorist’s mouth and put onto the plastic ‘DrugWipe’ device which, within eight minutes can detect any traces of cannabis or cocaine – both have the potential to impact on a person’s ability to drive.
The suspect was understanding as to the police’s proactiveness, saying the testing and catching of drink or drug-drivers was ‘a lot better than a knock on the door to say a loved one had been injured or killed’ caused by someone being over the limit.
Both samples he gave came back negative and he was sent on his way.
The pair I was out with were both field impairment trainers meaning not only were they trained to recognise the tell-tale signs of drug or drink influence, they also trained other officers in the force.
Aside from the breathalyser and the DrugWipe, there are five other tests which field impairment trained officers can carry out.
These include checking the size of people’s pupils in their eyes – drug use can widen them, getting the person to walk along a straight line, getting them to touch their nose, a balance test or get them to count to 30 seconds in their head and ‘stop the clock’ when they think the half-a-minute is up.
Body language, mannerisms, speech and other actions can also give people away if they have consumed alcohol or taken drugs.
Sometimes, even if the tests are passed and the officers still suspect drink or drug driving (for example smell of alcohol or cannabis), those stopped can be arrested and held for further tests on the more reliable breath machine at the station or by taking blood.
The officers I was out with were operational patrol units with the firearms and traffic department and have numerous skills and specialities.
They cover the whole force area from the north of Worcestershire – Bromsgrove and Redditch – and as far afield as Shrewsbury and even Banbury.
They can get called into literally any situation or respond to any call if they feel they can help.
And it was not long before that happened. There were reports that a ‘high risk’ vulnerable person who had gone missing had been found – wandering a dual carriageway.
They set off to get there as quickly as possible but fortunately, on this occasion, they were told to stand down when the situation was resolved by other officers.
As we were driving back, another person was pulled by the officers for driving erratically and undertaking.
He was breathalysed and, after passing, was released.
Then a call came about a man suspected of trying to break into a car being apprehended by the vehicle’s owner and his family.
He was held until the officers got there.
After quizzing him in the back of the car, the man was suspected to have breached an anti-social behaviour order so a police van was called to take him to a police station for further investigation and questioning.
By the end of the shift, there had been no drink or drug-drivers caught by the officers I was out with – that is the way the police like it as it suggests the message about the dangers of getting behind the wheel under the influence is getting across.
More concerning is that elsewhere on the operation – between 6pm on the Thursday (December 8) and 6am on the Friday (December 9) across West Mercia Media and Warwickshire, nine were held for failing drink-drive tests and two for having drugs in their system.
In total, from December 1 to 4 across the West Mercia and Warwickshire Police force area, 36 drink-drive arrests have been made and seven for drug-driving.
And at that point there were still 22 days left of the festive season.