Christmas is near and the Checkstops are coming, for drivers all over the city.
But so may be a practice that Calgary Police Service views as a big problem: The use of social media by some people to help those who have been drinking to avoid Checkstops on their way home from a holiday celebration.
Last year during the holidays, some Calgary residents hindered the efforts of police by posting Checkstop locations on social media, possibly allowing inebriated drivers to avoid detection and stay behind the wheel.
These posts are an issue for police, there is little they can do to stop it from happening.
“It’s freedom of speech,” Inspector Dean Lagrange of CPS said in an interview.
“All we can do is ask these people, ‘What are you trying to accomplish?’
“You’re enabling criminal behaviour,” he said.
Lagrange explained there is a big difference between someone trying to help their friends get home and enabling drunk drivers to get behind the wheel, which may cause an accident or even a death.
However, with social media audiences growing, it’s nearly impossible to single out a specific age group as being responsible for the online warnings.
While it may be okay for people to post warnings of police speed traps online, Checkstop locations are a different matter, the officer said.
“If people are slowing down because they don’t want to get caught, we’re accomplishing our goal.
“But in terms of enabling impaired drivers to avoid detection, that is a different ball of wax,” said Lagrange.
Students at SAIT and Calgary residents have mixed reactions to the issue, although many agree that posting Checkstop locations is an unsafe practice.
“Have a plan… (A car) is a dangerous weapon (in the hands of a drunk driver),” said Eric Farron, a second-year mechanist at SAIT.
“It’s dangerous. You never know who’s driving,” said a SAIT student, who asked to be kept anonymous.
Other students, however, said that by publicizing which routes to take to avoid police, they were just looking out for their friends.
“It would be great if the only people using this information were responsible people just looking to get home, but it’s impossible to know if that’s the case,” said one Calgary resident.
“It’s just as easy for law-breakers and deviants to get a hold of these posts and potentially put lives at risk.”
There have been a number of dedicated Twitter accounts created specifically for live updates on Checkstop locations. One has nearly four thousand followers.
The accounts have provided up-to-the-minute commentary on Calgary Police Service Checkstops in the past, and recent activity reveals more of the same.
In an effort to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities that are caused by drunk drivers this holiday, police have enhanced their Checkstop campaign, to include daytime stops.
The idea is to remind Calgarians that “drinking and driving is not just a nighttime issue,” said Sgt. Michael Watterston.
The more common cases of people caught driving while impaired come during the day and involve people who have attended a Christmas party at work.
While Watterston explained that he isn’t against people celebrating the season, he stressed that whenever alcohol is involved people should not get behind the wheel.
“We know people are going to be out there and we want people to enjoy these events but we also want them to do so responsibly,” he said. “We want them to have a plan.”
City police aren’t the only ones making an effort help keep the roads free of impaired drivers during this Christmas season, as they have teamed up with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada for that group’s 26th annual Project Red Ribbon campaign.
The Project Red Ribbon campaign aims to heighten awareness of the effects of drinking and driving by handing out red ribbons.
These ribbons symbolize MADD Canada’s efforts to raise awareness, while also paying tribute to those who have been affected by impaired drivers.
Much like Watterston, former president of MADD Calgary Tracy Franklin agreed that the effects of drinking and driving can negatively affect the lives of the victim’s loved ones.
“I’ve watched parents get very close to suicide, I’ve watched families completely ripped apart,” said Franklin.
“I’ve watched families who can’t imagine being able to move forward again.”
Franklin, who now volunteers at MADD Calgary, explained that while the number of people who drink and drive hasn’t decreased by much over the years, more people are aware of the problem, which is the first step to reducing those numbers.
You’re enabling criminal behavior. – Dean Lagrange
“Impaired driving is a violent crime that leaves devastation in its path, and it’s 100 per cent preventable,” said Franklin.
“And I think that’s the thing that kills me the most, it’s preventable.”