Steamboat Springs Just in time for the holiday season, police officers are spending three days in Hayden this week learning how to handle traffic stops involving suspected cases of driving under the influence of alcohol.
Eleven officers from the Colorado State Patrol, Routt County Sheriff's Office, Colorado State Parks and Hayden Police Department are participating in the training being led by State Patrol Trooper Brett Hilling. Hilling said officers are required to complete the 24 hours of field training before they can conduct roadside sobriety tests.
Five of Hayden Police Chief Ray Birch's seven officers needed to complete the training, and Birch said his request to host the training before the holidays was intentional.
"The holidays are always a very busy time," Birch said. "We want to encourage people, obviously, to drink responsibly and not get behind the wheel if they've been drinking alcohol."
Hilling said the training prepares officers to identify intoxication and properly conduct sobriety tests. While admitting, "We all know what drunks look like," Hilling noted there are many clues being taught during the two-day course that will give officers an advanced ability to spot intoxication.
Hilling's teaching materials include information on visual cues of driving behavior that may suggest intoxication. They range from obvious clues such as weaving, to more subtle ones such as slow speed. For example, the information states that if someone is following too closely after 10 p.m., there is a 35 percent chance they are driving under the influence.
There is a heavy emphasis on post-stop protocol in the training, including instruction on how to prepare reports and testify in court. Hilling said it is important for instructions and actions to be carried out correctly so that the officers' work and conclusions will hold up in court.
"Students at the end have to be able to identify intoxicated people and conduct the roadside tests," Hilling said. "Instructions have to be very specific and detailed. : We teach them what the law requires. We teach them a lot of case law."
Hilling said DUIs and fatality crashes are on the rise in Routt County and throughout the Yampa Valley. Last year, there was only one fatality on U.S. Highway 40 in Routt County. This year, there have been 11. Of the 24 accidents this year involving fatalities in this troop area of the State Patrol, 10 were the result of DUI, said Hilling, who noted some of the accidents are under investigation and could turn out to be DUI, as well.
"We've seen a significant increase," Hilling said. "We're arresting more DUIs - significantly more."
Birch said this is the first time Hayden has hosted training for area law enforcement agencies since the early 1990s. He said it is a sign of the Hayden Police Department's growth and progress and said the training is "an outstanding way for officers and deputies to interact and learn from others' experiences."
"Our plans are to be as involved as possible in working with all the agencies in the valley," Birch said.
The officer training will continue in Hayden today and will include a "live lab" tonight at Hayden Town Hall. A group of volunteers will consume alcohol in a controlled setting and serve as test subjects for the officers to practice on.