PAPD looking to put a dent in impaired drivers
Six years ago, streets in Port Arthur weren’t much different than what you might find at your local race track – people driving fast with little to no regard for the law. Now, with the advent of the Traffic Unit in 2006, last year’s traffic accidents were 200 fewer than in years’ past and the number of traffic fatalities last year – five- is the lowest number in decades.
For Lt. Steve Brinson’s traffic unit, which consists of 2 commercial vehicles and four officers responsible for all traffic violations – including the infamous Rickey Antoine, who never met an offender he didn’t ticket, regardless of the excuse – the city’s once rampant traffic problem has become manageable and the streets of Port Arthur, while maybe bumpy to drive on, no longer resemble the Autobahn.
“It’s remarkable the turnaround we’ve made in traffic,” said Brinson, a 28-year police veteran who said of all the task forces he’s been on, robbery, burglary, narcotics, you name it; the results of the traffic department are astounding.
“I’ve been a part of anything you can think of, and I’ve never seen it where the results are so in your face,” Brinson said. “The work these guys have done is tremendous.”
But now it’s time for Brinson and his standout unit to start whittling away at another traffic problem – driving under the influence.
Enter Officer Jeremy Bearden.
While not as imposing nor as gregarious as his traffic colleague Officer Antoine - nor as widely despised throughout Port Arthur – Bearden and Antoine both share one common trait, a tireless devotion to do their jobs and keep Port Arthur safe.
“They’re both very dedicated,” said Sgt. Scott Gaspard, “and Jeremy is very persistent, and he’s excellent at what he does.”
A six-year veteran of the police force who hails from Lumberton, Bearden was at a school more than a year ago for advanced sobriety testing when he was introduced to being a drug recognition expert, or DRE. It was something that piqued his interest, especially since a lot of the folks he pulled over that were driving under the influence weren’t necessarily under the influence of alcohol.
“At the school, they talked a lot about DREs, and the way the drugs affected your body and impaired you, and I noticed a lot of the DUIs I was getting while working patrol, they weren’t alcohol,” Bearden said. “So I do my research on how to go about getting accepted to the class, and all the things I needed, and went and talked to Major Odom. Then I went through with it and got approved.”
Bearden started the classes in February of 2011 and over the course of the next eight months worked his way through – which was an arduous journey – before earning the designation as a DRE for the Port Arthur Police Department in October.
“You have so many training subjects that you have to evaluate, and you have to make your call on what you think that subject is (under the influence of), and you have to have at least 80 percent accuracy throughout. And then once you pass that portion, you still have to go back and take a final knowledge exam that covers every single thing you can imagine! But I’ll tell you what, once I got completely certified, that was the biggest relief. I’m telling you, that was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my entire life.”
While he’s been the department’s active – and only – DRE since last October, he’s still had his patrol duties as well, but as of last week, he’s now assigned solely to the Traffic Unit and will spend his nights traversing Port Arthur streets looking for impaired drivers.
There are the obvious tell-tell signs of an impaired driver, such as weaving, failing to maintain a single lane and following too closely are just some of the signs a driver is impaired. Once that driver is pulled over is when Bearden goes to work.
“Different drugs will do different things to your body,” Bearden said. “Depending on what drug you take, it might speed your heart up, it can elevate your blood pressure, make it a lot lower than it should be. There’s a lot of normal ranges for the human body in general, your body temperature, your pulse rate, those are all things that I check during the evaluation.”
Bearden doesn’t perform the DRE tests on the side of the road; he does standard field sobriety tests like standing on one leg and following a pen with your eyes to determine if a person is impaired. Once that determination is made, the subject is arrested and taken to jail where the DRE performs the mentioned tests to help determine what drug the person is on.
Given the intense schooling that DREs undergo along with the strict qualification standard, because the officers are deemed ‘experts’, their determinations do stand up in court according to Bearden.
“Oh yeah,” he said, “they actually certify you as an expert witness, because as a regular officer you can’t give your opinion on the stand, where as an expert witness you can, and so that actually helps a lot more in court.”
Bearden, who was actually in school for part of this week, is ready to tackle his role on the Traffic Unit full time and add to its already sterling reputation.
“The more impaired drivers I can stop before something bad happens, that’s the most gratifying thing for me,” Bearden said. “If people make a bad choice driving like that, in an instant, they could ruin another family’s entire world, and that’s the real drive for me, is to get the impaired drivers off the street before they do something to themselves or somebody else.”