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Festive RIDE begins as local cops plan ahead for legal weed

Marijuana is set to be legalized July 1
20171115 FESTIVE RIDE Campaign KA
Wellington County OPP and Guelph Police Service conducted a joint RIDE check near Elora Wednesday for the kickoff to the Festive RIDE campaign in partnership with MADD Wellington. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday

As the Festive RIDE campaign rolls out, local police leaders are looking toward the future challenges that marijuana will bring when it is legalized in summer of 2018.

Insp. Scott Lawson, detachment commander of Wellington County OPP, said RIDE checks can often lead to the detection of other offences like suspended licenses and people wanted by police.

Lawson said over the last few years, the OPP has been finding more drugs in the cars they check.

“Once we determine the state of sobriety with a couple of quick questions, we might be able to determine if something else is happening. That is invaluable when you are talking about the greater public safety,” said Lawson.

Although the OPP do not currently have roadside drug impairment detectors, Lawson said some officers in the detachment are trained as Drug Recognition Evaluators.

Lawson said he has faith that the provincial and federal government will provide some sort of equipment and training when it comes to roadside detection of drug impairment before marijuana’s planned legalization as of July 1, 2018.

Wednesday’s local roll out of the Festive RIDE campaign included setting up a roadside checkpoint in near Elora with OPP, Guelph Police Service and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Wellington.

Officers were reminded prior to setting up the checkpoint to be extra cautious when conducting RIDE checks in light of an incident last December when a driver in Guelph collided with officers on the roadside during a check.

No officers were injured in the incident.

“We have just seen too many officers being injured, people mistaking what they are doing and hitting cars, us jumping out of the way, people fleeing from RIDE programs. All of those things we need to be mindful of,” said Lawson.

MADD Canada estimates more than 1,000 are killed each year in the country in impairment-related collisions and is the leading criminal cause of death in Canada.

Drivers who register breath samples with 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood receive an automatic 90-day suspension of their drivers license and, if found guilty, drivers receive a minimum 12-month driving suspension.

Chicf Jeff DeRuyter with the Guelph Police Service said it’s disappointing after so many years of RIDE campaigns that tragic incidents involving impaired driving still occur.

“When you’re driving it takes your full attention, whether it’s hand held devices or impairment from a drug or alcohol — your attention should be on the road and there shouldn’t be anything to diminish that,” said DeRuyter.

By the end of last year’s Feditve RIDE campaign, OPP conducted 143 initiatives in the county, with 13 drivers charged for being impaired by alcohol and one person charged with being impaired by a drug.

A total of 10 people were charged during last year’s campaign for possession of suspected drugs and 35 drivers were found to have had suspended licenses.

Elizabeth Kent, president of MADD Wellington, said people have not gotten the message that drinking and driving is not okay.

In her other role as executive director of Victim Services Wellington, Kents said she has seen enough heartache caused by impaired driving.

“I have sat with people who have lost their loved ones and I never want to do that again. Their life changes. It’s a ripple effect — it affects the families, the friends and it affects the communty as a whole,” said Kent.

The partnership between Guelph Police, Wellington County OPP and MADD Wellington is now in its sixth year. Kent said by banding together the three agencies can more effectively communcate to the public.

“It’s sending a message that if you drink and drive and get caught there is going to be consequences,” said Kent.

Lawson said his detachment often leads the province when it comes to detecting impaired drivers. Although he said that statistic does not refelct well on the community, the positive takeaway is the effectiveness of his officers in detecting suspected impaired drivers, apprehending them and seeing them in court.