Patrolling drivers is a full-time job
June 30, 2023
Cloquet police are cracking down on risky driving, with the goal of helping everyone on the road get home safely. That means stopping people who are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, along with those who are texting and driving, speeding or engaging in other poor driving behaviors.
While the entire force makes traffic stops like these in addition to other duties and calls for service, there is one officer who focuses solely on impaired driving, thanks to a state grant that fully funded a DWI car position in the department.
They aren't making driving while impaired stops to win awards, or get a bonus, said police officer Brett Reinsch. They're doing it because no one is expendable.
"I have worked two fatal crashes on Carlton Avenue since I've been here," Reinsch said. "And the effects of those, they never leave us. The carnage, the crying, the chaos that ensues because of that."
That's why he feels the DWI enforcement job is important for the community. Every arrest is a potential life saved.
"I don't ever want to go knock on somebody's door and tell them 'I'm sorry to come to you at 3 a.m., but your husband was killed in a car crash on his way home from work because he got hit by a drunk driver,'" he said.
Reinsch was the Cloquet DWI officer from October through June. Officer Jim Demko is the new DWI officer, while Reinsch has moved back to a regular patrol schedule. He'll still be making traffic stops, like every officer, but the schedule is better for his family life.
Working mostly 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. - peak drunk driving hours - was effective, though. Word got out, and he saw behaviors change as people saw him night after night, making the rounds, driving past bars at closing time, staying on task even when other officers got pulled away to different calls.
Some people used Joyride vouchers to take cabs instead of driving, walked home, called a friend or didn't get drunk. Reinsch told how the number of cars in the parking lot of a certain local bar grew from two or three to closer to 20 a couple months after he started the new DWI position. People were still going out drinking, but fewer were driving home afterward.
While the DWI position targets drunk driving and driving under the influence of other drugs, it also encompasses texting and driving, speeding, and other distracted driving. All those things are part of a statewide program - which also awarded a grant to Cloquet - called "Toward Zero Deaths," or TZD. That program works hand in hand with the DWI car position through focused enforcement efforts at certain times of the year, with the goal of dramatically reducing traffic-related deaths.
Enforcement is only part of the equation, Demko said. Education also plays a role: teaching or reminding drivers of good driving practices.
Engineering is another aspect of the TZD initiative: take the Minnesota Highway 33 roundabout. There have been no fatalities at that location since it was redesigned.
The yearly numbers also illustrate the CPD's growing efforts, Demko said. In 2019 and 2020, the Cloquet Police Department made 62 DWI arrests, with numbers affected by the pandemic. In 2021, that jumped to 117. Last year the CPD made 118 arrests. They were at 59 halfway through June of this year, on track to exceed recent years again.
"The reality is that some of the things we're focused on can have far reaching and rippling effects," Demko said. "Things nobody forgets."
That's why the entire police force is being more proactive, he said.
"Not only does it have any impact on the driver that we stop, it has an impact on every vehicle that passes," Reinsch said, channeling a driver in the moment: 'Oh, the cops are out there doing traffic stops, I had a better put my phone down, or 'I forgot to put my seatbelt on' or 'I need to slow down.' A person on their way to the bar who sees two or three officers making stops may figure there's a thousand of us out there and decide not to drive home."
Cloquet Police Chief Derek Randall agreed, pointing out there are several other officers with very high DWI arrest numbers.
Randall recalled hearing the story of a couple who lost their daughter, who was drunk and speeding when she crashed.
"They said how they wished an officer would have found and arrested her before she crashed," Randall said. "So someone might be really mad that they were pulled over, but at least it gives that person the opportunity to change their ways. Not everyone gets that chance.
"Hearing those parents say that gives energy and validity to what these officers do every day."
Editor's note: This story was corrected on July 5, to correct the spelling of Cloquet police officer Brett Reinsch’s first name.