Avoid the Five
The Grass Valley Police Department (GVPD) has a new tool in its arsenal to use in the fight against drunk driving. This Special Enforcement Vehicle (SEV) is a GMC diesel extended-cab truck with a large cargo box behind the cab. It was purchased with a grant provided by the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for Nevada County’s Avoid the Five program.
Avoid the Five is an effort to combat drunk driving in the county by utilizing the resources of the five law enforcement agencies within the county’s borders: the California Highway Patrol (CHP), Nevada County Sheriff’s Department, GVPD, Nevada City Police Department and the Truckee Police Department. There are other Avoid programs throughout the state that combine enforcement efforts of multiple agencies, such as Avoid the 13 in Placer County and Avoid the 23 in the Bay Area, but Nevada County is the only program with a truck of this type, according to GVPD Sergeant Scott Telles.
“It’s unique in the fact that it’s all encompassed in one,” he said. “With the big cab on the back of it, we do all our processing of the DUI (Driving Under the Influence) drivers inside of there. In addition, it’s four-wheel drive.” Creative grant writing, combined with the terrain and winter weather patterns in Nevada County, particularly in Truckee, convinced OTS that this type of vehicle was preferable over what other agencies usually use; a trailer pulled by a truck and a set of light-up signs to identify a checkpoint (not practical going over Donner Summit in late December).
The SEV is ‘code-three’ equipped and has a large, solar-powered, light-up LED screen on the back of the box that can be programmed with a variety of messages, such as ‘DUI Checkpoint Ahead’. Equipment used in setting up check points is stored in the truck and plans are to permanently install a processing center in the cargo area, complete with a computer system that will allow officers to access records data, such as driver’s license status and possible warrants.
“What we do with that big monster of a truck out there is utilize it for DUI check points during the peak holiday seasons,” says Telles. Those major holidays include Memorial Day weekend, Labor Day weekend and the winter holiday season that encompasses the Christmas and New Year’s holiday, according to Telles. “We’ll bring (the truck) out to different locations all throughout Nevada County and we’ll put on DUI check points and special enforcement of the impaired drivers and try to keep them off the streets,” Telles said.
Those specific periods of enforcement are part of the conditions written into the grant that paid for the truck, but Telles said any of the five agencies can set up DUI check points at any time throughout the year. Officers working check points are paid with grant money during those specific holiday periods, until the grant expires in 2009. Those working check points at other times of the year are paid by their specific agencies.
Often officers work together in what Telles called ‘DUI Saturation Patrols’, where patrol cars and officers from the cooperating agencies will join together in a particular area, such as downtown Grass Valley or Truckee, and drive around looking for drivers under the influence. “The OTS grant does provide for overtime and pay those officers to do that,” Telles said. The grant requires that Telles and the five law enforcement agencies perform several saturation patrols each year, as well 2-3 warrant sweeps per year, looking for DUI-related suspects in violation of the law. A recent warrant sweep involved two teams of officers from multiple agencies that attempted to serve more than 30 warrants locally.
Checkpoints locations are made public in advance, in part because law enforcement agencies hope drivers will think twice about not drinking and driving, knowing the police are out to enforce a zero-tolerance policy against DUI, according to Telles. “You’re looking at anywhere between $3,000-5,000 for a first offense DUI, after everything is said and done,” said Telles, “and that’s a lot more expensive than calling a cab.”
The message behind the Avoid the Five program is simple: “If you don’t drink and drive, you’ll avoid being arrested,” Telles said. “We want to be pro-active and not re-active to the DUI enforcement and that means letting all the motorists know that, in fact, we are doing these DUI check points, in fact, we are doing the saturation patrols, the warrant sweeps.”
Right now the truck is used exclusively for DUI checkpoints and public relations events, as part of the conditions of the grant used to purchase the vehicle. Earlier this month GVPD representatives appeared with the truck at a M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) fundraiser held at Arco Arena in Sacramento and at the Loma Rica Harvest Festival in Grass Valley last weekend. When not in use, the truck is stored at the GVPD station in Grass Valley.
More information about the truck and the Avoid the Five program is available by calling GVPD and Sergeant Scott Telles at 477-4600.
NASCAR Note: No matter what he did, Jeff Gordon couldn’t give away the lead in Saturday night’s race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina. Nearly out of gas, Gordon held on through two restarts in the closing laps to win his second race in a row and maintain his lead in the Nextel Cup’s Chase for the Championship. With only five more races left in this season, is Gordon on his way to another championship? Next stop Ðthe short track in Martinsville, Virginia.
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