Niagara Regional Police officers conduct at RIDE spot-check in this file photo.

Niagara Regional Police officers conduct at RIDE spot-check in this file photo.

The CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers Canada didn’t quite know what to say.

Andrew Murie was taken aback when he learned Niagara Regional Police didn’t run any RIDE spot-checks on New Year’s Eve.

“I can’t think of a major police force that hasn’t had a significant police presence on New Year’s Eve,” Murie said. “That’s why the Ontario government, through the Attorney General’s Office, gives the police forces special funding so that they can run the RIDEs with overtime during the holiday season.

“Usually, officers are more than willing to take the overtime and work a RIDE.”

RIDE checks, which are typically set up in two locations per night, were held Dec. 2, 16 and 22. The police stopped more than 1,000 drivers in Port Colborne, Thorold, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines on those days.

Checks were scheduled for New Year’s Eve, as well as Dec. 10, but were cancelled because the police service couldn’t find enough officers to run the program, Sgt. Josh Klop said.

“I get the iconic image of it happening on New Year’s Eve,” Chief Jeff McGuire said.

“The challenge is with the resources we have available, we were unable to staff it. I just can’t pull officers out of cars for RIDE spot-checks. It has to be in addition to our minimum staffing levels by contract. If we don’t have enough people, we simply can’t do it.

“We made efforts to do it on a call-back, but there was no one available to fill those roles.”

McGuire said the NRP had its full complement of officers on the street on New Year’s Eve.

“Our patrolling officers arrested a number of drivers on that particular night,” he said. “We responded to 911 calls reporting impaired drivers. Our officers see things themselves and stop drivers. It may not be perfect, but I don’t think it limited us in our ability to keep the community safe.”

Klop said there was a substantial amount of training throughout the police force last year, which thinned staffing numbers toward December due to time owed.

Murie said spot-checks are a key tool police use to keep roadways safe.

“It’s a deterrent,” he said. “Why do people drive drunk? They don’t think they are going to get caught.

“The RIDE sobriety checkpoint isn’t the best way to catch drunk drivers, but they create an expectation that there is a police presence out there. That alone stops people.

“Historically, December used to be the worst month for impaired driving deaths.

“With the high presence of RIDE programs in Ontario, December is now one of the safest months. RIDE programs are an essential piece of that.”

A RIDE program requires about six officers each time a check is conducted.

During the three RIDE — Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere — checks last month, Niagara police conducted 20 roadside rests, issued two three-day driver’s licence suspensions and made two impaired driving arrests.

Officers also handed out 21 tickets for various offences.

The number of total impaired tests conducted in 2016 was 493 compared to 446 the previous year, Klop said, though there’s been no real indication of what caused the increase.

The police ran six RIDE checks in December 2015, which resulted in two impaired driving arrests and seven licence suspensions.

The NRP typically conducts 15 to 18 RIDE checks per program year, which runs from March to March.

The police conducted 11 so far, with several more scheduled during the next three months, Klop said.

“We’re running more this month because we know we have an issue in a certain area,” he said, adding neighbourhoods in St. Catharines and Thorold will be targeted throughout January.

The stops will include both officers on duty in those communities, as well as some officers working overtime.

The police are also attempting to raise public awareness of drinking and driving through the use of social media, press releases and a weekly online list that names drivers charged with the offence.

Klop said the list, in particular, has gained a lot of attention in the community.

“Everyone is always looking for people they know. They always say, ‘I hope my name never ends up on that list.’”

With taxi, ride-sharing and designated driver services available in the community, there are many different ways people can opt to get home safely after a night of drinking, Klop said.

Source: Welland Tribune