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Combating DUIs: 509 SFS keeps Team Whiteman safe

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Members of the 509th Security Force Squadron (SFS) are tasked with the mission of defending the strategic deterrence mission at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

A key element of the SFS mission is ensuring that all drivers on the installation abide by the law.

In June, Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets, IV, 509th Bomb Wing commander, enacted the DUI Battle Plan as a base-wide approach to combat instances of driving under the influence at Whiteman with the goal of reducing DUIs at the base by 20 percent in three years. The DUI Battle Plan utilizes three condition levels: Green, Yellow and Red. The colors reflect the number of DUI incidents involving base personnel in a 60-day window and are posted at each base gate with the unit of the last member to receive a DUI. The plan also contains multiple avenues of education for Total Force Airmen regarding DUIs and reemphasizes the importance of strong wingmanship.

As part of the heightened efforts across the base to encourage good decision-making when it comes to alcohol and driving, SFS carries out sobriety inspections, which are akin to checkpoints used by law enforcement agencies to test the blood alcohol content (BAC) of drivers passing through an inspection area by using a portable breathalyzer test (PBT). This method ensures that all drivers in the given area are treated equally and held to the same standards.

“Everyone deserves the same level of customs and courtesies, regardless of rank,” said Staff Sgt. Devin Pope, a 509th SFS security forces training instructor.

If a member appears to be under the influence, SFS will conduct additional Standard Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs). Each patrolman is issued a standard SFST Instructions Guide, which outlines the procedures. SFSTs include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), during which the patrolman checks the driver’s eyes for indications of impairment; the Walk and Turn Test, a method of checking the driver’s coordination and balance; and the One Leg Stand, another test for coordination and balance. Four HGN, two Walk and Turn, or two One Leg Stand clues indicate possible alcohol or drug impairment. Meanwhile, at least one additional SFS member serves as a witness to ensure fairness to the driver and support for the member performing the SFSTs.

If the patrolman determines that the driver is under the influence, the driver is advised of his or her rights and brought to the SFS headquarters for BAC testing. SFS then uses an Intoxilyzer, a device which provides a detailed printout outlining the driver’s BAC. The printout is then filed in the driver’s incident report.

“Alcohol affects all differently,” said Pope. “We ultimately have to prove that someone is impaired.”

A common misconception is that if a driver’s BAC is lower than .08 that he or she cannot be charged with a DUI. However, Missouri law states that a person commits the crime of driving while intoxicated if operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, and/or medication, regardless of BAC. Therefore, if a patrolman or civilian police officer determines impairment from one of these sources, a driver could face conviction of a DUI with a BAC of less than .08.

During daily SFS patrols, if a driver exhibits at least three indicators of DUI, such as weaving, stopping in the middle of the road or driving slower than normal, the patrol will pull over the driver. From there, the patrol will foster a conversation with the driver to learn where the driver was heading and if he or she had consumed any alcohol prior to driving.

“We don’t ever try to assume,” said Senior Airman Rylynn Paz, the 509th SFS assistant NCO in charge of police services and corrections. “We try to talk to them and see what is going on.”

If the patrolman suspects impairment, he or she will initiate SFSTs. A newer tactic SFS employs is to use a Passive Alcohol Sensor mounted in a flashlight. Officers are able to test the breath coming from a driver’s mouth during a conversation within a few seconds to help determine possible impairment.

DUIs can result in adverse career effects due to punitive actions within the member’s chain of command, not to mention that driving under the influence poses a direct threat to the lives of the driver, any passengers traveling in the vehicle and every other person on the road. Military members face a one-year suspension from driving on base upon receipt of a DUI on base. Additionally, any member who received a DUI within five years of a previous DUI on any DoD installation will receive a two-year driving suspension.

In the state of Missouri, for a first offense, a driver will have his or her license revoked for 30 days followed by a 60-day suspension. A second offense could result in a $1,000 fine, a year-long revocation of his or her license and up to a year in jail, in addition to being required to install an ignition interlock system on his or her vehicle, preventing the car from starting when the driver has alcohol on his or her breath. Ignition interlock systems cost an average of $800 annually in addition to an installation cost.

Third and subsequent offenses can be penalized with up to a $5,000 fine and/or up to seven years in jail. If an intoxicated driver gets in an accident resulting in a fatality, the driver could be charged with involuntary manslaughter. This felony offense could result in up to seven years of jail time, a $5,000 fine, or both.

Every day, SFS continues to combat DUIs, keeping Team Whiteman safer by holding standards high for every Total Force Airman.