Penticton RCMP curbing drunk drivers

Penticton RCMP launch annual CounterAttack program looking to take drunk drivers off the roads.

Const. Brad Power of the Penticton RCMP with one of the mobile breathalyzer units police will be using during the current CounterAttack program which began Dec. 5. Officers will be using unmarked vehicles as well as the regular patrol vehicles and also doing checks during the day.

What you don’t see can hurt you and cost you your driver’s licence or worse.

T’is the season of CounterAttack and Cpl. Ted Manchulenko of the Penticton RCMP traffic section is warning motorists starting Dec. 5 this year’s program will include a less visible police presence.

“Obviously, people drive differently when there is a marked police car versus no police around,” said Manchulenko.  “So for the people who don’t get it and don’t read the newspapers and don’t see the marked police vehicles operating road checks, be forewarned that the person beside you might be a police officer in a blue Pontiac or a white Tahoe.

“We’re going to have uniformed members on the road doing stationary checks but as well, we’re taking that new approach this time around.”

He added there is still plenty of value to having the regular patrol cars doing the checks as a means to discourage people from getting behind the wheel if they are impaired.

The officers doing the unmarked patrols in search of impaired drivers will be moving throughout the community.

Manchulenko added those police will be looking for drivers committing traffic infractions, such as unsafe lane changes, use of signal lights or anything which might give some indication the vehicle operator may be impaired by either drugs or alcohol.

“This is incredibly important work because people who drink and drive are potential killers so it is critical to get them off the streets before they hurt or kill somebody or themselves,” he said. “We have those people who always say, ‘Why are you picking on me?’ But that is the reason because of that deadly potential.”

He pointed out police sometimes hear complaints from people who feel the road checks take officers away from other duties, however, in the RCMP’s opinion doing this work is vital to the public’s safety.

A good example of that was this year’s first annual Victims Candlelight Vigil put on by the Central Okanagan Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Kelowna.

The event was organized to honour and remember those who had been killed or injured in drug or alcohol-related accidents.

Because there is no chapter of the group in the southern Interior, people from this area were also invited to participate.

According to the group’s president, Carol Fazekas, figures show impaired driving continues to be the number one criminal cause of death.

On average, four people die and 175 are injured every day in Canada.

Local statistics from last Christmas season’s local CounterAttack program which ran from Dec. 1, 2013 to Jan. 5, 2014, included one criminal code impaired driving charge, 11 90-day immediate prohibitions, one seven-day suspension, four three day prohibitions, three 24-hour suspensions for drugs and two 24-hour suspensions for alcohol, for a total of 22 impaired-related police actions.

“We can certainly operate very effectively being covert and sneaking up on people, but it is also valuable for us being there and being visible,” said Manchulenko. “However, that being said, being less visible is a good message to send because there are always people out there who are trying to circumvent what we’re trying to do.

“We’re just trying to get the message out there that drinking and driving is not appropriate any more in today’s climate.”

Another effective and successful component of last season’s CounterAttack was the scheduling of the road checks, according to the officer. Especially closer to Christmas when people may be more inclined to stop for a couple of drinks on their way home.

“I mean people close up businesses early at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and there are some very surprised people, when they run into a roadblock,” said Manchulenko. “One-thirty in the morning, 1:30 in the afternoon, be forewarned.”