By Lt Colonel Jerry Jones (Ret), Chief, Field Operations Bureau, Maryland State Police and Thomas J. Gianni, Chief, Maryland Highway Safety Office, Maryland Department of Transportation, Motor Vehicles Administration

Maryland’s Impaired Driving Problem

Despite a dramatic decline in traffic-related fatalities over the past ten years, including the lowest level of fatalities in 2014 since 1948, Maryland’s alcohol-related traffic fatalities remained stubbornly constant over this same time period. Five-year crash data at the time indicated that 38 percent of fatal crashes involved alcohol and drug use. With this number holding steady, state officials recognized that more must be done to save lives on Maryland highways.

Developing Maryland’s Plan

In 2012, the Maryland Highway Safety Office (MHSO) identified a source of federal grant funds that could be used to establish something over and above what had been attempted in the past. Following executive level discussions and buy-in, the beginnings of a plan started to take shape. It was ultimately agreed that the MHSO would fund the development of a full-time team of highly trained troopers whose sole responsibility would be to conduct impaired driving enforcement in counties with the highest incidence of alcohol and drug related traffic crashes. What would set this team apart from other HVE efforts was that it would be concentrated in highly targeted areas where various data sets indicated a strong need for intervention. Funding from the MHSO would provide extensive media support specifically for this team in localized areas of enforcement. Moreover, assistance from the MHSO’s Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutors (TSRP) would provide the prosecution outreach that would be required when the team’s arrests headed to court. Logistically, considerable planning was done by the Maryland State Police (MSP) to ensure that troopers’ court and travel issues would not impede their enforcement schedule. It was decided that the team would only be deployed in the central Maryland area where the heaviest concentrations of population reside, as well as the majority of Maryland’s DUI crash problem exists, around the metropolitan areas of Baltimore and Washington DC, often referred to as the I-95 corridor. A seven-year Memorandum of Understanding was crafted and signed by both the MHSO and the MSP describing the function of the team and its financial support structure. Ultimately, a project name was conceived: State Police Impaired DRiving Effort (SPIDRE).

SPIDRE Selection, Training and Deployment

The MSP began its process to identify a team of seven highly motivated troopers (including two supervisors) and intense interviews were conducted to ensure the right candidates were selected. The selected team included DRE[1] and ARIDE[2] trained troopers. Additionally, all the team’s troopers attended the University of Maryland’s DUI Institute, an intense weeklong training program focused on HVE for DUI. The Institute includes courses such as:

  • DUI Detection and SFST
  • DUI Enforcement Motivational Training (“Catch ‘Em If You Can”)
  • Enhanced DUI Report Writing
  • DUI Testimony
  • Media Relations

While the team was being assembled and primed for deployment, policies were developed and equipment procured. The MHSO assisted with funding for the purchase of new high-profile SUV vehicles specially marked and equipped for this project. Upon completion of all the preparations, the team was assigned to the Field Operations Bureau under the direct command of the Lieutenant Colonel in charge, and his staff. They were recognized within the agency as an elite team with a different, highly focused mission.

Deciding Exactly Where to Deploy the Team

In an effort to ensure precise targeting of the SPIDRE Team, the MHSO’s partner, Washington College, was contracted to analyze traffic volumes, DUI crash hot spots and other pertinent data so as to identify deployment areas. Utilizing a variety of databases and GIS mapping tools, Washington College developed a Predictive Linear Risk Model for DUI Enforcement to identify routes likely to be taken by DUI violators.

Team Launch

The official launch of the SPIDRE Team immediately prior to the 4th of July holiday in 2013, garnered significant news coverage in the major media markets of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Additionally, excellent relationships between law enforcement agencies resulted in collaborative efforts to be launched in the counties where SPIDRE would be deployed. Working almost side-by-side, county police departments in Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Baltimore Counties[3], joined forces with SPIDRE to combat impaired driving in their respective jurisdictions. These major population centers contain 56 percent of Maryland residents and suffer the highest incidences of DUI crashes. SPIDRE rotates among the four counties and each county deploys its officers alongside SPIDRE troopers for three month intervals. Regardless of the local deployment strategy, partners maintain their “SPIDRE spirit” and zealously seek and arrest DUI offenders.

SPIDRE Tactics: Make the Stop, Make the Contact and Make the Arrest

Working within identified targeted hot spots, SPIDRE Troopers stay on high alert for driving behaviors or vehicle conditions providing reasonable suspicion to stop and contact the driver. When they see such behaviors or conditions they make the stop. Answering a questionnaire, the SPIDRE troopers unanimously rated Speed 10+ MPH above limit and weaving across lane divider as behaviors that very frequently precipitate stops of drivers who are impaired. Weaving within the lane, headlights off at night and speed 10+ MPH below the limit drew ratings of very or fairly frequently producing stops culminating in arrest. Working as a unified team, deployed in the same areas on the same nights[4], each trooper averages 3-4 DUI arrests a week and are actively joined in the field by their supervisors who also make stops and arrests.[5] Even more important than the actual arrests are the impact and general deterrence created by the highly visible presence of the team making traffic stops in areas saturated with a variety of media advertising the team’s presence and mission.

Getting the Word Out

HVE means delivering frequent, impactful messages about the enforcement. Throughout each county’s SPIDRE mobilizations, four enforcement messages are deployed utilizing paid, earned and social media outlets, including billboards, radio messages, bar coasters, roadside Variable Message Signs (VMS) and gas pump toppers in the targeted areas of patrol. Specific messages include:

  • Maryland’s DUI Team is On the Street
  • Don’t Get Caught in Our Web
  • Extra DUI Patrols Tonight
  • Going Out? So Are We. Choose a Sober Driver.

Maryland also mobilizes statewide for NHTSA Region 3’s HVE initiative Checkpoint Strikeforce, conducting numerous heavily publicized sobriety checkpoints. The benefit of nationally-paid advertisements of Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over adds value to the local ads supporting the HVE teams.

The MHSO annually spends about $600,000 for paid media supporting DUI HVE, $400,000 statewide for Drive Sober and Checkpoint Strikeforce and $200,000 on SPIDRE while deployed in the four counties.

Recruiting and Maintaining the SPIDRE Team

Joining SPIDRE means committing to a demanding schedule. As noted by one of the team members, “Scheduling hardships make me advise anyone with children or extra demands on their time to think carefully before applying for SPIDRE. Without my spouse, I couldn’t maintain the workload. But this is the most rewarding assignment in my career.” Even so, the troopers interviewed responded to “how much longer do you hope to work on SPIDRE” as follows: three checked 2-3 years, one checked 4-5 and two over 5. Only one checked the shorter period of 7-12 months, indicating he expects promotion soon to a rank precluding continued SPIDRE service. Even with the noted camaraderie, the work demands of this team are intense and regular substitutions are made through a rotating deployment to guard against burn-out.

The team is also very active in passing along its knowledge and skills by offering on-duty tutorials for other troopers interested in enhancing their DUI enforcement skills. Coaching and ride-alongs are offered to these troopers that includes review of SFST procedures, report writing and detection skills. Supervisors tracking the subsequent performance of troopers who have participated in this training have consistently reported remarkable improvements.

Is SPIDRE Making a Difference?

Although it is too soon to measure success from an outcome perspective, the word about SPIDRE’s stepped up enforcement is out. Regular press events draw large media attendance and the SPIDRE Team is often the focus of media ride-alongs for press stories regarding impaired driving. In the two years following inception, the troopers assigned to SPIDRE have made over 4,200 traffic stops, producing 1337 DUI arrests, as well as 93 other arrests. They have established themselves as an elite DUI Enforcement Team. During the last three month assignment in Montgomery County, MD the average BAC of an offender was .135% and 23 percent of all arrests were repeat offenders.

As Maryland’s highway fatalities continue to decrease, the updated data for impaired driving fatalities is also encouraging. When SPIDRE began, the most recent analysis (2008-2012) predicted DUI fatalities might rise to 175 in 2015. In 2013, 22 fewer motorists lost their lives than in the year before as a result of impaired driving crashes[6]. A more extensive 360-degree evaluation of the program is currently underway through a contract with the University of Maryland to determine the program’s overall effectiveness and cost benefit.

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[1] DRE: Certified Drug Recognition Expert

[2] Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement Training

[3] Baltimore County does not include Baltimore City, a separate jurisdiction.

[4] Four Nights a week: Wednesday evening through Sunday morning (6PM-4AM)

[5] About 50 DUI arrests annually, by both the corporal and the sergeant.

[6] NHTSA Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS); Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities (BAC = .08+)