By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

When a Keizer police officer suspects someone of driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII), resolving the problem isn’t always as easy as pulling them over and administering a field sobriety test.

“I was once told in training that, next to a homicide, DUII’s are the most difficult cases to work and prosecute,” said Sgt. Trevor Wenning, head of Keizer Police Department’s Patrol Unit. “Drunk driving spans all ages and social economic groups and there is an abundance of attorneys ready to pick apart our investigations. We have a vast amount of court rulings, procedures, processes and certain words that need to be spoken, verbatim in some cases, which if not adhered to jeopardizes the case.”

Despite such challenges, KPD has been largely successful with its DUII enforcement.

Each year for the past five years, the Keizer Police Department was awarded an Oregon Department of Transportation Grant that covers overtime costs for DUII enforcement.

KPD officers average one arrest for every 5.2 hours worked in DUII enforcement. That’s better than the statewide average of one arrest for every 6.4 hours of overtime.

Even with that success, some KPD officers, and likely throughout the country, remain uncomfortable with performing the DUII stops because the bar for conviction has been set high.

“Officers have to provide subjective and objective proof in order to secure the conviction. Subjective proof includes our observations and objective proof would be getting a breath sample or drawing blood for testing. Simply put, these investigations demand perfection at every level of the investigation and that is why some officers are uncomfortable with them,” Wenning said.

DUIIs still occur so frequently that to alleviate the burden on the justice system, first-time offenders can complete diversion programs. The only ones who can’t bypass the court in that manner are those with commercial driver licenses.

Every officer receives 24 hours of DUII enforcement training – 16 hours in administering field sobriety tests and another eight on drug-impairment -– but it can still leave them less-than-confident in executing a stop. To bolster that training, some officers are now taking advanced courses on evaluating impaired drivers and recognizing the signs of drug impairment. There’s also a four-hour refresher course in field testing every three years, required by the ODOT grant, for officers working DUII patrol overtime.

The legalization of recreational marijuana is also changing the landscape for officers in the field.

“In January 2017, KPD arrested 11 drivers for DUII, two of which were under the influence of marijuana. It is anticipated, and there have been studies to back this in states that have had legal marijuana for some time, that our arrest rate for marijuana impaired drivers will rise,” Wenning said.

Since the beginning of 2017, KPD officers have arrested more than 20 suspected drunk drivers. The highest blood alcohol content level registered in those arrests was .23 percent, nearly three times the legal limit of .08 percent. The lowest was .12 percent.

Most of the DUII patrols in Keizer are scheduled between Friday evening and early Sunday morning. Additional patrols are scheduled during “holiday” weekends known to generate festive drinking, like St. Patrick’s Day, Super Bowl weekend, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, Memorial Day and Labor Day. In Keizer, even the annual Iris Festival warrants additional patrols.