Award-winning Carbondale cop sees hope in DUI arrests |

Award-winning Carbondale cop sees hope in DUI arrests

Carbondale has been cracking down on drunk driving over the past few years. One cop, who won an award for DUI enforcement, believes it’s working.

Carbondale Police Sgt. Robb Windham prepares for the night shift.
Thomas Phippen

On the most recent First Friday event in Carbondale, police Sgt. Robb Windham said he saw, “hordes of people walking down the street,” an indication that locals are making conscious efforts to avoid drinking and driving.

“I was thrilled, because that’s the ultimate goal,” Windham said.

In 2017, Windham became really good at spotting drunk drivers. Carbondale police arrested 99 people for drunk driving that year, and Windham made 70 of those arrests himself.

“I just always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. It was non-stop,” Windham said.

Compared with neighboring towns, Carbondale has been on the upper end for DUI arrests in recent years. Glenwood Springs Police Department reported 100 DUI arrests in 2018, with a population of 10,000, and 181 arrests in 2017.

With a population of around 4,000, Basalt Police Department made 18 drunk driving arrests in 2017 and 38 in 2016, according to state data.

Windham, 35, has been with the Carbondale Police Department since 2013. In mid-2017, he was promoted to sergeant but kept up his night shift patrols. By 2018 he was doing more office work, and wasn’t out looking for drunk drivers, but he helped the other officers spot drunk drivers.

“I tell the guys, obviously, if I can go out and be in the right place, and the right time, and get 70, they’re out there, if you go out there. You just have to do it the right way,” Windham said.

But Windham said the department isn’t just trying to rack up arrests. “It wasn’t a numbers game, it’s never been about who can do more,” he said.

In May, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Department of Transportation recognized Windham for Outstanding Individual Dedication to Impaired Driving Enforcement.

So far this year, Carbondale police have made 37 DUI arrests. Only 16 of those were Windham’s, but he’s OK with that.

“It’s never a good thing, personally, to arrest someone for a DUI,” he said.

Most of the time, DUIs are people without criminal records who messed up.

“Some people just blatantly don’t care, and they’re out there getting hammered and driving. But I’d say the majority of people have just made a mistake, so it’s not the most fun thing to do,” Windham said.

As the summer events season gets underway, Windham hopes people will be more conscientious about drinking. He also wants drivers to understand that asking a driver to step outside the vehicle and complete roadside sobriety tests isn’t meant to entrap anyone.

“There’s this myth out there that just because we ask someone out of the vehicle to do roadside [tests] they will automatically be arrested,” Windham said.

When an officer approaches the designated driver’s window, for instance, the smell of alcohol from the other passengers can be overwhelming, and it’s difficult to determine if the driver is also emitting the smell. Asking the driver to step out is simply a way of making sure.

Windham said he doesn’t arrest half of the people who do the roadside maneuvers.

“If I’m asking someone to do roadsides, it’s really just to make sure that you are OK to drive,” he said.

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