Deputy leads the county in making arrests for DUI
URBANA — Jonathan Reifsteck has never had a close friend or relative be seriously injured or die because of a drunken driver. He's not a zealot on a mission. He just likes finding people who have consumed enough alcohol or drugs that they have no business driving.
And he's good at it. Very good.
So far this year, the Champaign County sheriff's deputy has made almost 100 DUI arrests. (The number was 97 as of Oct. 4.)
That represents about 25 percent of all the DUI arrests made by all 13 police agencies in Champaign County during 2012 through Sept. 20.
And it's about 80 percent of the arrests made by the entire sheriff's office patrol division.
"I wouldn't give (DUI enforcement) priority over anything else. It kills time and it's something to do," said the unassuming deputy whose efforts were lauded earlier this year by the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists.
A graduate of Western Illinois University's law enforcement and justice program, Reifsteck has spent his entire 12-year law enforcement career with the Champaign County sheriff's office. Raised in rural Sadorus, he graduated from Unity High School.
His father, Jim Reifsteck, is a retired sheriff's deputy, and his older brother Brandon is also a Champaign County sheriff's deputy, so the language and lifestyle of law enforcement is familiar to the 33-year-old.
Over the years, he has developed a reputation as being an aggressive detector of drivers under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
Working the midnight shift for 10 of his 12 years on the force, he usually has plenty of opportunity to watch for them. And he's been known to make two and sometimes three DUI arrests in one shift.
Given that a DUI stop and arrest can consume at least two hours from start to finish, that's proactive enforcement by any measure.
"If I could have a whole shift of him, I would," said Sgt. Dan Coile, one of two supervisors on midnights.
"He's very well rounded in all areas. But we rely heavily on him for the DUI part, not only for enforcement but for assisting other officers in our department. He also reaches out beyond our department to other agencies. Any time somebody has a question (on a DUI) we refer them to him," Coile said.
King of DUIs
Veteran DUI defense attorney Mark Lipton of Champaign said that while he doesn't exactly cower when he sees Reifsteck arrested one of his clients, he knows he's up against an experienced officer.
"He is referred to as the 'King of DUIs.' He knows how to do the stuff. He does the instructions about the field sobriety testing as well as anybody. (From a defense perspective) it is sort of better to have a less-qualified officer do that kind of a stop. I have a case coming up where one of the best things I have going for me is that the officer didn't know how to do the instructions. He did them wrong. I haven't seen Reifsteck make those mistakes," Lipton said.
Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz said the most important thing any officer can do on a DUI stop is to be consistent. And Reifsteck is consistent, she said.
"Do the field sobriety test in the same way, the same order every time. It should be a very routine process, starting with the probable cause for the stop, moving on to making the observations that lead to the belief that impairment may be an issue, leading to conducting the field sobriety tests to confirm that issue, and finally, following all the requirements when it comes to chemical testing. When they do the same thing every time, they end up with very solid cases," she said.
What to look for
On a Wednesday night earlier this month, Reifsteck explained what alerts him that a driver may be having problems: speed, lane violations, traffic control violations, lights on high beams when they needn't be, sitting too long at a traffic light, or something as major as continued driving on a flat tire.
"You'll follow somebody who's all over the road and get excited then find it has nothing to do with DUI. They may be looking at a cellphone," he said.
Before the stop is made, his in-squad video camera is recording.
After the stop come personal observations of the driver: posture, behavior, if his eyes are bloodshot, glassy, watery, how his speech sounds, odors coming from him, and his ability to produce license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance.
"I had one guy who immediately got out and fell on his face, all on video. That definitely helps," he said, laughing.
"A person might have a stack of credit cards they're looking through and pass up his driver's license two or three times. I'm taking mental notes and notes on an index card. Everything is being recorded so I'll confirm it with the video later."
"Even if I don't smell alcohol, I will ask, 'How much have you had to drink?'"
He also asks where the driver has been and where he's headed.
"If somebody is refusing to talk to me, I have them step out, which they are required to do. If they're not willing to give me something, I'm going to look pretty hard to find something," he said.
Arrest based on big picture
As he was explaining his method of operation, another of Reifsteck's supervisors, Sgt. Jeff Vercler, alerted Reifsteck that he had stopped a car at about 1 a.m. after it went about halfway through the Five Points intersection in Urbana on a red light.
Vercler called Reifsteck for two reasons: Reifsteck is fast and efficient, and his squad car is the only one on the midnight shift with a camera.
The driver pulled into a business parking lot, giving Reifsteck a safe spot out of traffic to talk to him and enabling Reifsteck to position his squad car so that his camera could record the stop.
He then began the field sobriety tests. Those include touching index fingers to nose one at a time to observe eye activity; the walk-and-turn test, putting one foot in front of the other on an imaginary line; and the one-legged stand. The latter two measure balance. Those, Reifsteck explained, are the standard tests.
Non-standard tests can include asking the driver to recite the alphabet from E to P or count backward from 88 to 79. The person who might have a physical condition that would keep him from standing on one leg ought to be able to recite the alphabet. Like a test proctor, Reifsteck is seeing if the person can follow directions.
"When the field sobriety testing is done, I ask if you feel impaired. Believe it or not, more than half the people will say, 'Yes. I feel impaired.' You've basically convinced them they were under the influence," he said.
The Champaign man stopped that early morning was polite and cooperative as he admitted drinking three beers at a downtown Champaign bar before driving. His performance on the field sobriety tests was not so good.
He agreed to Reifsteck's request that he take a portable breath test. Although not admissible in court as evidence, the test can help the officer develop probable cause for arrest.
The reading was 0.17 percent, enough to make Reifsteck think three beers may have been on the low side for a 180-pound, 5-foot-5 man. In Illinois, a motorist is presumed intoxicated with a reading of 0.08 percent.
"The decision (to arrest) is based on the totality of the circumstances. I'm not basing it just on your driving, your appearance, or the field sobriety testing. I'm basing it on everything. Each (individually) doesn't carry much weight, but if you combine a bunch, then you've got something there," he said, adding the man also had a moderate odor of alcohol and bloodshot and watery eyes.
After informing the man that he was under arrest, Reifsteck called for a wrecker to tow the man's car away, put the handcuffed driver in his squad car, and headed to the county jail.
Vercler said he tries to make sure Reifsteck has another officer standing by during a DUI stop. Sometimes it's from another department.
"When he's concentrating on his DUI, he needs us to maintain security, a safe environment," Vercler said.
The second officer can also handle the tow — vehicles are held for 12 hours to prevent an impaired driver from getting back in it after being released from jail — and fill out that paperwork so Reifsteck can get started on what he needs to do at the jail.
Arrest almost complete
Once at the jail, Reifsteck read the obviously tired driver the written "warning to motorist," which outlines his rights, including the consequences of not taking a breathalyzer test. A refusal means losing a license for a minimum of a year. Taking the test and blowing over the limit results in a six-month automatic license suspension.
"Don't throw up or put anything in your mouth," he warned the arrestee, noting either can interfere with the breathalyzer. There has to be a 20-minute period of observation by a correctional officer prior to the breathalyzer test.
The correctional officer certified in administering the breathalyzer then instructed the driver that he had to give a good, long, steady blow for the machine to properly perform.
"If you don't, it's the same as a refusal," he explained.
The driver got the job done with one blow, which showed a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.165 percent.
The correctional officer gave Reifsteck a copy of the result to include with his report. Reifsteck then finished writing the driver the tickets outlining the laws he was accused of breaking and made sure he had all the other paperwork he needed to complete the report he would have to submit to the state's attorney's office for the man's prosecution. A short version was required by the end of his shift.
Reifsteck said if a report is more involved, he may write it at home on his own time after his road shift is over so the details are still fresh. Otherwise, deputies frequently write reports in their cars if they're not tied up on other calls.
"We're supposed to be seen," he said of the reason for writing in the car and not the office.
"It definitely makes a shift go fast," Reifsteck said of a DUI arrest.
Reifsteck maintains there's nothing in particular about DUI cases that motivate him. They are just a part of his job as a deputy that he enjoys. He routinely attends continuing education classes on DUI enforcement.
"I don't have a goal. If I come across 100 (impaired drivers) I should have 100 arrests. If I come across 10, then it should be 10 arrests," he said.
Working Tuesday through Saturday, Reifsteck finds Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights to be his more productive for finding impaired drivers. Other kinds of calls for service are higher on the weekends, leaving less time for proactive enforcement.
Part of the reason for his high arrest numbers is the respectful way he treats the people he's stopping.
"If you reason with people and you're nice, you tell them: 'Here's what the law says.' That's how I approach it. That's everyday life," he said of the courtesy.
Yes, he's seen people killed because they were drinking. Yes, he drinks alcohol. No, he doesn't drive after he's had even one drink. Yes, people have vomited in his squad car — often. Yes, he has to clean it up himself. No, he doesn't like having to spend so much time in court testifying against the people he arrests.
Vercler noted that he and Reifsteck have been involved in four fatal crashes during 2012 where the victims had been drinking.
"It does have a higher purpose," Vercler said of Reifsteck's DUI enforcement. "Who knows how many accidents he has prevented?"
Sgt. Andy Charles, a 23-year Urbana police officer with an equally good reputation for DUI enforcement, agreed.
"A lot of police officers want to do something to help people or society. You look at the different things you do over the course of your career — domestics, fight calls — and think, maybe I've saved a couple of people from being hurt."
"With DUI enforcement, it's not unrealistic to think: 'I've saved an injury or a family member from the grief of having a son or daughter killed.' That's something that gives you satisfaction. You can look in the mirror and say, 'I've done some good,'" Charles said.
Number of arrest by agency for DUI, 2009-2012
|Champaign County sheriff's office||116||93||178||117||504|
|Champaign Police Department||109||123||60||35||327|
|Fisher Police Department||4||3||5||3||15|
|Gifford Police Department||4||0||0||1||5|
|Homer Police Department||0||0||1||0||1|
|Illinois State Police||157||106||101||108||472|
|Mahomet Police Department||10||9||4||4||27|
|Parkland Public Safety||0||1||2||1||4|
|Rantoul Police Department||66||45||51||45||207|
|Thomasboro Police Department||3||2||1||1||7|
|Tolono Police Department||3||2||5||0||10|
|University of Illinois Police||47||33||40||33||153|
|Urbana Police Department||93||61||55||35||244|
|Totals by year||612||478||503||383||1,976|
|Sheriff's Deputy Jonathan Reifsteck||62||80||90||97||329|
Through Oct. 4, 2012.
Sources: Departmental numbers: Champaign County state's attorney's office; Reifsteck's numbers: Champaign County sheriff's office