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DUI DRAGNET: A night on patrol with Grand Forks' finest

Cpl. Travis Jacobson stopped at a convenience store just before 1 a.m. Saturday to grab a Diet Mountain Dew and a couple links of jerky. He was in his fourth hour of looking for drunk drivers as part of the Grand Forks Police Department's "satura...

DUI saturation
Grand Forks police officer J. Moe assists another officer during a stop near the DeMers Avenue bridge during Friday's DUI saturation. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

Cpl. Travis Jacobson stopped at a convenience store just before 1 a.m. Saturday to grab a Diet Mountain Dew and a couple links of jerky. He was in his fourth hour of looking for drunk drivers as part of the Grand Forks Police Department's "saturation" patrol, and a snack seemed like a good idea.

So far, it was a quiet night. Icy roads had slowed most drivers, giving Jacobson and three other officers with the same assignment few reasons to make stops that might lead to arrests for driving under the influence.

Jacobson had pulled over several drivers with broken lights, a litterbug and a speeder, but no impaired drivers. Making matters worse, the temperature was barely above zero.

"And to think, I could be in a warm bed right now," he said. "I came out here by choice."

Jacobson, who usually works days in the investigation bureau, volunteered to take part in the nighttime patrol that's sponsored by a federal grant. The nine-year vet of the department has had a steady interest in hunting down intoxicated drivers, but in 2006, when he lost a friend in a drunk-driving crash, the issue became personal.

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"I don't know how to put it in words -- I just took it a lot more serious."

After Jacobson left the store, he drove south on Washington Street. Near the DeMers Avenue intersection, he saw a black Toyota coupe turn quickly and skid into the parking lot of a Sinclair gas station.

"Oh, that's nice," Jacobson said.

He zipped up behind the coupe as it was leaving the lot and flashed his emergency lights. The car pulled onto a side street and stopped.

Jacobson got out of his squad car without slamming the door, so not to alert the driver, and approached the car, casting his flashlight on the backseat. His notepad was tucked under his left arm, and his right hand -- his gun hand -- was free.

After an exchange with the driver, Jacobson came back to his car keyed up.

"I can smell marijuana coming out of there," he said.

Jacobson radioed for backup, and three other squads came to the scene. He patted down the driver and put him in the back of his squad. A potent whiff of pot and a trace of booze filled the interior.

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Jacobson explained to the driver, who I'll call Rob, what was going on.

"When I walked up on the car -- it reeks of marijuana, and you reek of marijuana," Jacobson said.

Rob, a 21-year-old who just moved to town, told Jacobson he and his girlfriend, who was in the passenger seat, had simply been around other people who were smoking pot that night.

"I know you've smoked," the officer told Rob.

Jacobson is certified as a drug-recognition expert, which means he can hypothesize with some authority on whether people have recently used drugs and what kind they've used.

From the front seat, Jacobson examined Rob's pupils and tested his ability to track a pen back and forth and up and down.

Jacobson had Rob say part of the alphabet (F to T), recite the entire alphabet and count backward (67 to 49). Rob seemed to do those tests without a flub.

But, "Not one test alone decides whether you arrest," Jacobson had said. It's the "totality of the circumstances."

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Jacobson told Rob he was going to administer a breath test.

"I'll be honest with you, I'm not sure if I'll pass this," Rob said.

"How many drinks have you had tonight?" Jacobson asked.

Rob acknowledged having four stiff Jack-and-Cokes. Before blowing into the device, he said, "Oh man, here's the moment of truth."

The digital display showed .073. Rob was cautiously excited that he'd slid under .08, the legal limit for a driver's blood-alcohol content. Although, if a driver blows above .05 and is noticeably impaired, an officer still can make an arrest, Jacobson had said.

Waiting to learn his fate, Rob told Jacobson, "I swear to God: We were going straight home."

"But we don't know what would have happened between here and home," Jacobson said.

The officer eventually got out of his squad. His mind was set. He suspected Rob had been driving under the influence. He opened the back door, explained to Rob that he was placing him under arrest and handcuffed him behind his back.

Jacobson drove Rob to the police station to conduct a more thorough intoxication evaluation, what Jacobson calls "a mini doctor's appointment." On the way, Rob started to feel sick.

"I feel like I'm going to throw up," he said.

Jacobson asked Rob if he had eaten any marijuana.

"Why was that baggie in your lap?" Jacobson asked.

Rob said the baggie had peanuts in it. "Sir, I'll throw up just to prove to you that I don't have weed in there."

Once inside the police station, Rob had to use a garbage can.

Completely compliant, Rob allowed Jacobson to put him through a series of tests, including taking his blood pressure, pulse and temperature. Jacobson had him walk in a line, turn around and walk back on the same line; had him balance on each foot for 20 seconds; and had him touch his fingers to his nose. He examined Rob's pupils in the dark and in the light. Peering in Rob's mouth, Jacobson said, he could see "heat bumps," small raised areas that can be caused by marijuana smoke, which is hotter than cigarette smoke. The exam ended with Rob giving a urine sample.

"You're a textbook marijuana case," Jacobson told Rob.

Rob was taken to the Grand Forks County jail where his girlfriend was going to meet him and bail him out.

As it happened, Rob was the only DUI arrest the dragnet made that night. Rather than stay in certain areas, officers said, roving patrols would have netted more intoxicated drivers, but that would have broken the rules stipulated by the grant.

The department was planning another DUI patrol for Saturday night.

Ingersoll reports on crime and courts. Reach him at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to aingersoll@gfherald.com .

Citation
Moe writes a citation for a missing light Friday. The department was planning another DUI patrol for Saturday night. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

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