July 23rd, 2024

Officers honoured for efforts to combat impaired driving

By Lethbridge Herald on June 21, 2024.

Members of area policing agencies gather for a photo following a ceremony honoring recipients of the Cpl. Cumming’s Watch awards on Thursday at the Lethbridge police station. Herald photo by Justin Sibbet

Justin Sibbet – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

In August 1998, RCMP Cpl. Graeme Cumming was struck and killed by an impaired driver while attending a traffic incident near Coalhurst, ending his life at just 37-years-old.

Tragedies like this are remembered by MADD Canada, various police services and countless others who have been affected by the preventable crime of impaired driving. To honour the officers who best keep southern Albertan streets clear of impaired drivers, the Lethbridge Police Service hosted a ceremony presenting the Cpl. Cumming’s Watch awards. 

The list included six LPS officers, four Medicine Hat Police Service officers, two Coaldale RCMP officers, two Blood Tribe officers and three sheriffs. Among them was Constable Carol Fenner of the Blood Tribe Police, the first Indigenous woman to receive this award.

“Within one year I (had) 25 stops for impaired driving that I removed from the road,”

Anita Huchala, president of MADD Lethbridge, says Fenner has a personal connection to the effects of impaired driving, causing her to become more involved in the safeguarding of our streets.

“Not only having loved ones and friends driving on the road, but also having loved ones and friends driving while under the influence has made removing impaired drivers off the road her priority. 

Fenner says every arrest for impaired driving is a reality check for what may have been.

“This could have been a family member, or this could have been a loved one.”

She adds how being a recipient of the award is equally important because it stands for so much more than an officer’s work.

“It is an honour to receive this award because impaired driving is such a huge loss to victims and survivors. So, being able to take these drivers off the road is just a big accomplishment.”

Last year, Alberta saw over 2000 drivers arrested for drunk driving and nearly 300 taken into custody for drug impaired driving.

LPS Sgt. Danny Lomness says this number is nothing new, but it doesn’t make it any less unfortunate to see.

“One impaired driver is too many.”

He says Lethbridge itself had 277 impaired driving incidents in 2023 and so far this year the number is up to 136. 

“Already those numbers look high, however, each month does significantly change based on usage of the road,” said Lomness. “Our goal is to not have any impaired drivers.”

Reports out of the U.S. show musician Justin Timberlake was recently arrested for impaired driving. Lomness says arrests involving high-profile individuals will not greatly affect impaired driving numbers, but no media is bad media if it means spreading the word about the dangers of impaired driving.

“Any kind of (event) such as this that is publicized, that is out in the media, brings good awareness and that’s the purpose of doing this today,” said Lomness. “Obviously we’re celebrating the officers and the hard work that they’ve done, but also to bring awareness to people to make them have that second thought before they drive drunk or impaired by drugs.”

He says a huge support for the police is citizen awareness. Having people call in when they suspect an impaired driver is, according to Lomness, paramount to keeping the streets safe.

“We encourage people to, if they suspect an impaired driver, to call the police or call 911 so we can send officers there to investigate it.”

Even with public aid, he says LPS officers are and will always be on the lookout for criminal drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

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impaired, and yet the system no longer proves as much. two standards are now in place, but neither proves whether a driver is actually impaired. just numbers established to ensure a black and white approach to conviction.
not at all saying we should not be tough on dangerous drivers. however, .08 is a standard that affects everyone differently. ditto the newer .05, which is absurd…why not punish people for being responsible.
moreover, checkstops are unacceptable in so-called free society. we each must have the right to go from a to b without state interference. by all means pull people over for infractions related to their driving; but fascist checkstops must end.

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