Const. Stephane Fontaine has been an officer in the Winnipeg Police Service for 15 years. He started off working general patrol in the North End, St. Vital and St. Boniface before realizing his aspiration for traffic- related training. He took courses to become an impaired driving enforcement officer and then became a reconstructionist and an instructor for the Traffic Collision Investigative Unit for six years. He's been the impaired-driving-countermeasures co-ordinator for the WPS since 2012. He talked to Free Press reporter Stephen Burns.


Q: Where did your passion start for this type of police work?

A: It didn't take me long to see the devastating effects of impaired driving. It's a serious crime; as a matter of fact it's the number one criminal cause of death in Canada.


Q: How many drunk- or impaired-driving arrests have you made?

A: It's in the hundreds for sure, probably in excess of that. I've been involved either as the breath technician or as the arresting officer.


Q: Do the majority of those arrests take place during the holiday season?

A: We talk about it a lot during the festive season because the likelihood of people going out and celebrating increases at this time of year. I will tell you the impaired driving phenomenon is year-round.


Q: Aside from the obvious ones, what are some techniques you or other officers use to determine whether someone is impaired or not?

A: Highly trained impaired-driving-enforcement officers will detect more subtle signs and focus more on the impaired driver, the person that's not necessarily stumbling drunk but is still under the influence. It can be summed up by looking at driving as a complex, divided-attention task. The driver will be given a simple divided-attention task at roadside. If the person can't conduct a simple divided-attention task, how can they possibly be expected to complete a complex one like driving?


Q: What are the more ridiculous things you've seen with certain impaired drivers trying to mask the fact they are drunk?

A: We've seen all kinds of goofy stuff. One of my counterparts a few weekends ago said he came across someone who was chewing on toothpaste, which obviously isn't normal. The drug-impaired -- who are smoking marijuana for example -- will try to mask the smell with a whole bunch of Bounce sheets in their car, or have their car littered with a forest of little pine tree air fresheners. If anything that's the biggest clue. I've heard of people chewing on different things to defeat the breathalyzer, urinal pucks were the worst thing. It doesn't work and it's disgusting, to say the least.


Q: In your experience, are more people arrested obviously drunk or are they a bit more subtle?

A: The higher trained officers will be able to detect those who are impaired and not intoxicated. Anyone can spot a really drunk person. It's the impaired driver who's more difficult to detect but is likely to be more dangerous because they'll take risk-taking behaviours like speeding, running red lights or not wearing a seatbelt. They think they're OK to drive but they're not.


Q: What the most rewarding part of your job?

A: I know that if I remove an impaired driver off the streets I've possibly saved someone's life. I've seen the tragedy that can occur from an impaired driver crashing into someone else. I guarantee you every policeman when they got hired on said they wanted to help people, and impaired-driving enforcement is directly related to that statement.


Q: You mentioned you've seen the effects of drunk driving first-hand. Could you elaborate on that a bit more?

A: Several examples come to mind. I was involved in a double-fatal collision in 2010 as a re-constructionist. It involved an impaired driver who plowed into the side of another vehicle containing five people. Two of those people died as a result and one has lifelong injuries to deal with. It was five girls, university students who were ready to start careers. Their lives were cut short, not to mention the families involved, it affects them as well.


Source: Winnipeg Free Press

Last updated on: 2014-12-18 | Link to this post