Festive R.I.D.E. adjusts to the pandemic

Durham Regional Police Service’s (DRPS) Festive R.I.D.E. program is different this year – due to COVID-19.

Police officers are wearing masks, socially distancing and can’t put their heads inside vehicles to smell for alcohol.

“Eyes have become very significant this year in terms of making sure that we’re being more observant,” says Const. Nicholas Marchand, in his second year working the R.I.D.E. program.

DRPS does have an approved screen device to detect alcohol consumption but requires reasonable suspicion to be used, according to Const. Bob Baumgartner.

“In order for us to gather or create reasonable suspicion that there would be alcohol in their system, we need to base it on our observation,” says Baumgartner, in his third year with the R.I.D.E. program.

“One of the key indicators is the odour of alcohol, which right now we’re in a position where we can’t detect that, as readily anyways, through a mask.”

Through the first four weeks of the program, DRPS has stopped 5,689 vehicles and charged 36 people with offences including impaired driving, robbery and possession of narcotics.

Both the weekly number of drivers DRPS is stopping and the number of charges laid is down this year, but Baumgartner and Marchand say it is roughly the same ratio from previous years. Police are stopping an average of 1,800 drivers per week this year, while in in pre-COVID years it was 3,000.

“When you look at motorists on the road and compare it to the arrests being made, I think it’s all relative,” says Marchand, adding the number of motorists is down this season.

The decrease in traffic is noticeable at nighttime for the two officers.

“Nearer to night, the roads are a lot more bare than they traditionally are,” says Marchand. “Of those people, a lot of them are delivery drivers and other folks who have to travel for their employment.”

As a result, R.I.D.E, officers are responding to calls about impaired drivers.

“Typically, we would find them ourselves, whereas now we’re taking them from the road officers from calls for service. Usually, we’d actually find people who are actually driving while impaired, whereas now we’re responding to calls of people calling in these drivers whether it’s a crash or them just driving along the road,” says Baumgartner. “But we’re not just finding them (in the R.I.D.E. checks).”

Marchand says in past years the majority of incidents were at “hot spots” by bars and restaurants that serve alcohol but this year they’re concentrating on suburban areas.

“This year we’re focusing a lot on certain subdivisions,” says Marchand. “People going from neighbours to neighbours or coming to and from families and some of the main roads aren’t as popular this year.”

With Christmas and News Year’s Eve coming up, even with fewer drivers on the road, Marchand does not anticipate any change in staffing levels of officers working the R.I.D.E. program.

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