The Tustin Police Department organized its first drunk-driving checkpoint in roughly a year, an absence of activity prolonged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The exercise, funded as part of a $115,000 state transportation grant, took place the evening of March 19 along northbound Red Hill Avenue near Industrial Drive. The location was chosen for statistical reasons, such as DUI collisions.
Officer Michael McJunkin coordinated the checkpoint alongside Sgt. Jason Wonser, who supervised the event. The checkpoint took about two weeks of planning, which included alerting nearby businesses and even county transportation authorities because of the bus stops affected.
Approximately 20 personnel worked the checkpoint, included a group of cadets who helped keep the stats as cars churned through the lines delineated by orange cones. For most of the cadets, the checkpoint also served as their first ever.
At the briefing prior to the checkpoint starting, McJunkin instructed the group to keep their initial interactions with drivers brief and friendly, mostly asking for their license. But having the officers wearing masks as a COVID-19 safety precaution was going to make at least one fundamental thing more difficult.
“We might not smell impairment as well,” McJunkin said, referring to when officers can immediately sense alcohol or drug odors in a car.
Safety was stressed during the checkpoint, which could be potentially unsafe for officers as they stood in the middle of the street near potentially impaired drivers.
“Officer safety is paramount at these things,” Sgt. Jeremy Laurich said.
“We can’t stress officer safety enough,” McJunkin added. “It’s the first time bars are open inside, and it’s still technically St. Patrick’s Day weekend.”
After several hours that went into the early morning hours of March 20, the checkpoint resulted in officers contacting approximately 600 vehicles. Of those, they issued about 20 citations for various violations — most for unlicensed driving — and one person was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and driving on a suspended license. Officers also conducted field sobriety tests during the checkpoint.