Updated February 12, 2021 - 7:53 pm
Las Vegas police have done away with DUI checkpoints and are taking a new approach to getting impaired drivers off the streets. Officers say they are seeing great results.
“Instead of going out and fishing, we wanted to go out and be hunters,” said Metropolitan Police Department Lt. Bret Ficklin. “We want to take an active, proactive approach to finding DUI drivers. We’re sending resources around the whole area and actively look for DUI drivers.”
The DUI Strike Team patrols the city in a targeted blitz, usually picking one Saturday night each month to send up to 70 officers from multiple jurisdictions into a section of town to scout out impaired drivers. Ficklin said the team chose Sunday night this month because the Super Bowl is known to bring dangerous decisions to the streets of Las Vegas.
“Historically, it’s a time when people get together, they want to have a good time,” Ficklin said. “That good time can include drinking alcohol or taking recreational drugs.”
The strike team that night partnered with the Nevada Highway Patrol, North Las Vegas police, Henderson police and Clark County school police. The combined effort in south and southeast Las Vegas resulted in 232 vehicle stops, 98 citations and 36 people arrested on suspicion of suspected impaired driving.
During First Tuesday, Metro’s monthly public livestream, traffic bureau Capt. Dan Bledsoe said the number of impaired driving arrests so far this year had increased compared with last year, but he did not provide specific numbers.
“We’re encouraged by that, and we’re excited, and hopefully that’s also going to translate into saving lives, because that’s what it’s all about,” Bledsoe said. “Every week, every month, we have tragic stories that come up when it comes to fatalities.”
More arrests, fewer deaths
The DUI team came together in October 2018, after Ficklin said investigators determined that, by year, fewer impaired driving fatalities correlated with more impaired driving arrests.
In 2020 the team began monthly blitzes, but because the holiday season typically marks an increase in impaired drivers and deadly wrecks, Ficklin said the team doubled up on blitzes in October, November and December.
Since its inception, the team has made 2,741 impaired driving arrests as of Tuesday, including 175 people in the first five weeks of this year.
In 2019, Metro arrested 4,564 people on impaired driving charges, compared with 4,104 the year before. The number of fatalities involving impaired drivers fell more than 50 percent, from 54 people to 26 in the same two-year period, according to logs maintained by the department.
Data on the number of arrests for 2020 was not readily available.
Andrew Bennett, spokesman for the state Office of Traffic Safety, said the blitzes are the most productive way to target drivers. He said his office is trying to help Metro maintain efficiency during blitzes by creating a mobile blood draw clinic for suspected impaired drivers. Officers have two hours from the time they pull over an impaired driver to take a blood sample for evidence.
“Every Saturday we have a phlebotomist out in a DUI van,” Bennett said. “During DUI blitzes, we have two DUI vans with a phlebotomist in each, and the majority of blood draw at the evidentiary level done is done at the vans.”
Ficklin said having an added police presence on the roads once a month means they’re also finding other crimes. Among those arrested on Super Bowl Sunday, for instance, one was found to be in possession of meth; another was booked on weapons and child endangerment charges; and a third was found to be illegally in possession of a firearm. When officers obtained a search warrant for the man’s home, they confiscated 11 more guns, Ficklin said.
Even though Ficklin’s role isn’t to actively seek out impaired drivers, he said that without fail, an impaired driver ends up in his path during each blitz.
“For us, it’s heart-wrenching because we’re the ones that have to respond to these collisions where people are getting seriously hurt, seriously maimed or killed,” Ficklin said. “Those are things that, when you see them, you can’t unsee them. You begin to wonder, that easily could have been my wife and kids or my daughter, and why wasn’t it? You feel almost helpless as to what more can we do to keep this from happening.”
As of Sunday, 13 people had been killed in crashes in Metro’s jurisdiction this year, including two deaths that involved drivers impaired by drugs, according to logs maintained by Metro.
“Every single one of those events was preventable,” Ficklin said. “Every single one of those did not have to happen.”