MADD Volunteers to Deputize Themselves
By: Mary Ann Pekara
Ordinary citizens across the country often form neighborhood watch programs. These groups organize and hold meetings in connection with local law enforcement to help prevent crime in their neighborhoods.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has decided to step up the idea of the neighborhood watch program a notch - or several. In Manatee County, Florida, volunteers for MADD will launch a pilot program in cooperation with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office that will be the first of its kind in the nation.
The MADD volunteers will conduct a "Traffic Observation Program" (TOP) that will run for six months. During this time, the MADD traffic observers will note vehicle descriptions, license plate numbers and the direction of travel of vehicles that they think may be operated by drunk drivers. The information that they collect will be reported to the sheriff's department.
The program is scheduled to launch on September 1, 2008. The MADD volunteers say that if safety permits, they may decide to follow the drivers that they believe are drinking and driving while they contact the sheriff's department dispatchers.
MADD to Put Volunteers "In the Line of Duty"
While the MADD volunteers may have good intentions, it's difficult to understand exactly why they feel it would be safe to be on the road with suspected drunk drivers, much less a good idea to follow someone who may be drinking and driving. Most people would rather remain safe and simply allow law enforcement officials to do their jobs.
Most of the traffic observations done by the MADD volunteers will be during the peak DUI arrest hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., while most people are happily at home and sleeping.
Market Watch reported that the results of this pilot program will be tracked for effectiveness and that adjustments will be made along the way. We can only hope that one of the adjustments will be that the MADD volunteers decide to step back and let the sheriff's deputies handle any possible situations of Florida DUI that may arise on their own.
During the program, MADD volunteers will pair up. There are currently a total of just 12 MADD volunteers who wish to participate in the TOP program.
The pairs of volunteers plan to hit the road, with one person driving while the other makes observations and communicates with the sheriff's department dispatchers. Manatee County's MADD Volunteer Leader, LaVonne Bower, says that by reporting erratic drivers, the MADD volunteers will just be doing what all citizens should do.
The MADD volunteers whom plan to participate in the traffic observation program will receive some training from certified DUI officers. Before the program begins, they will have had classroom training and also participated in a minimum of 6 hours of patrol car rides with DUI officers.
The Manatee County sheriff says that he is happy to have the support of the MADD volunteers in an effort to curb Florida DUI. Sheriff W. Brad Steube has high hopes that the TOP program will make a difference in the number of alcohol-related fatalities and injuries in the county.
The TOP pilot program in Florida is the first in what is to be a nationwide program for MADD. The volunteers that complete the limited amount of training and participate in the program will be out roaming the streets in their own vehicles. They will also use their own personal cell phones to contact law enforcement when they think someone may be drinking and driving. The programs stops just short of having volunteers make Mayberry-style citizen's arrests.
Will The TOP Program Actually Curb Drinking and Driving?
Since the MADD volunteers are not actual deputies, they are not a factor in the issue of probable cause. Police will still need to have probable cause to pull over vehicles and a 911 call from a private citizen who happens to be a MADD volunteer just won't cut it.
The MADD TOP program will put their volunteers on the street during what they deem peak hours for drinking and driving, therefore theoretically putting them in danger. These volunteers will not be able to do anything that any other citizen could not already do. The reports of DUI suspects coming from these volunteers will be basically worthless, as they will not count towards probable cause for cops to stop the "suspect" vehicles.
Given these facts, the question begs to be asked - what is the point?