Sheriff’s deputy brings in the drunken drivers
By Brian Stanley firstname.lastname@example.org August 2, 2012 5:16PM
Year Number State rank
2005 120 25th
2006 129 17th
2007 127 12th
2008 123 19th
2009 180 3rd
2010 140 13th
2011 132 8th
Data provided by the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists.
Updated: September 4, 2012 6:02AM
WILL COUNTY — Another year. Another award. And another mixed reaction from Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Kirsch.
“I wonder if I’m really doing more. It’s nice to get recognition, but there have been defense attorneys who try to turn it around that (making these arrests) are something I’m seeking,” he said.
Since rejoining the traffic unit in 2004, Kirsch has ranked among the state’s top cops for DUI enforcement every year. In June, the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists said only seven other officers in the state arrested more drunken drivers than Kirsch last year — all of whom were from the larger departments of Chicago, Rockford and Springfield.
The 23-year-veteran grew up in Sheboygan, Wis., and came to the area after seeing a hiring poster for the sheriff’s department at college. After spending several years working in the county jail, Kirsch was T-boned by a drunken driver running a red light on one of his first days as a patrol deputy.
“Everybody survived that though. It was a call I went to not long after where some kids (young adults) were partyhopping and drove into an oak tree that’s stayed with me,” he said.
While there’s no “typical” profile for a drunken driver, Kirsch’s experience has found more arrests of men driving alone on a weeknight between 10 p.m. and midnight.
“There’s plenty of activity on weekends, too, but I think if a couple plans to go out on the weekend, they’re more likely to decide who’s driving before they get to the bar. But if someone gets off work and decides to meet some buddies and keep drinking ... ,” Kirsch said.
While Kirsch isn’t waiting outside taverns to stop people leaving (“It doesn’t make you look good when you testify”), he has made more than 1,000 DUI arrests. With so much experience, he’s also frequently requested by fellow deputies and other departments to perform field sobriety tests if he’s available.
Kirsch believes recent arrests are down because people aren’t going out as much in the bad economy and while “everyone” now has a cell phone, there are surprisingly few calls about erratic driving from other motorists.
“But I did have one girl who said she drove over a curb because she was texting on her phone as an excuse,” Kirsch said. “That may have been true, but (tests showed) she was also drunk.”
Kirsch’s squad car is equipped with a video camera that also records sound.
“Sometimes what they say is far more damning than the field sobriety tests,” Kirsch said. When the older camera system was removed from the upholstery, he stuck a teddy bear up to cover the hole. While the bear has become a good luck charm, it could be easily sacrificed if the deputy had to comfort a child.
A recent shift began with Kirsch pulling to the side of the road and using radar to check for speeders in unincorporated Joliet Township and in the city, where “they’re busy enough that they appreciate the help.”
Despite the expectation one has for a cop who writes a lot of tickets, Kirsch seems generous with what he allows a driver to clock over the posted limit and he doesn’t look for an excuse to stop anyone he sees.
“I could probably double my DUI arrests for equipment violations, but judges like moving violations,” Kirsch said. “Running a red light is a lot more dangerous than having a taillight out.”
After stopping a speeder, Kirsch calls in the license plate and model. After talking briefly with the driver, he’ll come back to the squad with a license to make sure he isn’t dealing with someone who’s wanted or considered dangerous.
If the information matches, Kirsch can just transfer that right to the ticket he’ll print up. It doesn’t seem any of the stops — all speeding except one woman driving in the dark without headlights — take longer than eight minutes.
One of seven
But Kirsch’s estimate that one out of every seven traffic stops results in a DUI arrest turns out to be accurate shortly after 11 p.m. when he’s driving on Caton Farm Road.
An oncoming gray pickup trips the radar doing 54 in the 35 mph zone west of Essington Road. Kirsch flips on his emergency lights and turns around to pursue the truck, which turns onto a side street a quarter-mile later.
Kirsch walks up, and the 33-year-old driver appears to have some difficulty opening the door when he’s asked to get out. The driver tells the deputy he had two beers with dinner, but hasn’t been drinking since and will be able to perform Kirsch’s tests, although his boots are uncomfortable.
The subject decides to take his boots off, but is first asked to recite the alphabet from “D to Q” and has some difficulty with the sequence. Meanwhile, another deputy, a Joliet officer and a state trooper have stopped to serve as backup.
When Kirsch asks the driver to raise his leg and hold it in the air, the man does an awkward impression of a Rockette and seems to find it very amusing.
“Looks like he’s freestyling there,” a deputy observes.
As the driver questions his credentials and makes some allegations the deputy’s wife would likely contradict, Kirsch remains calm and businesslike. Though he does crack a brief smile when the driver says, “This should make the local newspaper.”
The man’s giggling continues until Kirsch produces a portable Breathalyzer and asks if he’ll blow into it. The driver insists he did not fail the test but refuses to do so. For refusing to check his blood alcohol content, he’s arrested for misdemeanor driving under the influence of alcohol.
After a half-hour spent riding to the jail, being searched and booked, the suspect is given a chance to take another breathalyzer test or have his license suspended for six months to a year. The man agrees and indicates he knows how to blow up a balloon. But despite four attemps, he isn’t able use the clear tube in the same way to produce a reading on the machine.
“I can see you’re putting your tounge over the hole. That doesn’t work,” Kirsch tells him. “I’ve been doing this long enough. I know all the tricks.”