Random visits from police officers key to keeping DUII court program clients sober

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Beaverton Police Officer Matt Kingsbury discusses the process when conducting a home visit with a participant in the B-SOBR DUII diversion court program. On his earliest visits to a recovering alcoholic's or addict's home, Matt Kingsbury spends a fair amount of time dredging up the resident's past — the physical manifestations of it, at least.

"In the beginning, I spend a lot more time looking for medicine bottles, looking through the cabinets in the kitchen," the Beaverton police officer says. "People tend to have stashes, maybe they didn't even know were there. There might be 10- to 15-year-old bottles of alcohol. I clean up the cobwebs and check the back corners."

If things go the way the program intends them to, each subsequent visit to a "client" — random, unannounced and at the officer's discretion — becomes more familiar and interactive. Officers are better able to read the client's mood, demeanor and household environment for positive and negative clues.

The five officers assigned to monitor clients in the city of Beaverton's Sobriety Opportunity for Beginning Recovery court diversion program look for physical and psychological signs of alcohol and drug use, as well as addictive behaviors such as gambling. Weapons and even lottery tickets are a no-no. Excess dishevelment or a sink full of unwashed dishes can provide an officer enough reasonable suspicion to call for a breathalyzer or urine test. In some cases, they'll make an arrest.

If a test comes up positive, the client — who agrees to the monitoring along with other limitations on freedom as an alternative to jail time — gets to face the music with Judge Les Rink during the next B-SOBR court session, held twice monthly in Beaverton's Municipal Court at City Hall.

"In the recovery process, if someone's house isn't in order, they're not in order," explains Jennifer Rivas, the B-SOBR program's court case manager. "It's not all about not drinking, but also not living as a productive citizen of society."by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Beaverton Police Department Officers Sean Hinkley and Matt Kingsbury often check in with Jennifer Rivas, the B-SOBR program's court case manager, on the status of program participants after they conduct a home visit.

Life-saving mission

For Rink and Rivas, the city officers serve as their eyes and ears in the field as program participants go about their day-to-day lives outside the courtroom and intermittent chats with the program leaders. Officers work the B-SOBR monitoring into their regularly scheduled duties and are compensated accordingly through overtime pay the program helps to cover.

Funded by a $125,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation, B-SOBR is an optional jail-diversion court program designed to treat individuals who continued to drive motor vehicles after their drinking and drug use spiraled beyond control. Many participants are on their second or third DUII conviction. The three-year grant, which ODOT recently extended another year to October 2015, covers Rivas' salary, the officers' home visits and other related court costs.

Participants agree to strict conditions in exchange for their freedom beyond a jail cell, including ongoing sobriety and urine tests, wearing an alcohol monitoring bracelet, committing to Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar recovery program, an ongoing search for employment and, of course, the surprise check-ins from their friendly neighborhood police officer.

In addition to Kingsbury, the B-SOBR officers include Sean Hinkley, Bryan Dalton and Jim White. Officer Matt Barrington is about to take over from Officer Sean Connor, who is stepping down from his role.

Rivas and Rink worked with Police Chief Geoff Spalding to select officers whose interest, background and demeanor were best suited for B-SOBR home TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Beaverton Police Department Officer Sean Hinkley prepares a breathalyzer kit before heading out on patrol.

The police department recognized Hinkley in 2009, 2010 and 2011 for the most driving under the influence of intoxicants arrests. For him, the program feels like a natural fit with his goals as a public safety officer.

"I think DUII is a crime," he says. "When I arrest someone, I don't know how many lives I've saved by doing that."

Rivas gives the officers a rundown on clients, issues they're struggling with and what to look out for during their visits.

"As the program has been growing, we kind of know who is most likely to violate," Hinkley says. "We feel it out when people are newer to the program."

Not Avon calling

During a typical home visit, which can take place anytime day or night, one officer will engage the client while another searches the premises — including shirt and pants pockets, drawers, medicine cabinets — for alcohol, unapproved prescription drugs or other B-SOBR-designated contraband.

"Ninety-five percent or higher of the visits are uneventful," Kingsbury says.

Hinkley agrees, noting any clients actually seem glad to see them.

"Most of them welcome us in their homes," he says. "We'll talk about the program, their day, how things are going. That's what comes with trying to be sociable."

Mike Rowe, the police department's public information officer, says clients come to recognize that officers' visits — while inconvenient and intrusive — are part of their solution rather than the problem.

"When Officer Kingsbury shows up, they know his job is to help them and keep them on track," Rowe says.

The more successful clients associate officer visits with a chance to prove themselves.

"They get excited seeing the officers," Rivas says. "I think it's esteem-building for them."

Kingsbury recalls a visit where a violation was discovered that required the client's arrest. The client's mother didn't want her small child to see her being taken away, so Kingsbury waited for her to pack her things until a grandparent could come by and pick up the child.

"That's one of the things. We try to build positive relationships," he says. "We want to be respectful when people open the door. We want them to like it when we show up. You're going to get more out of that in the long run."

Synergy fuels program

Rivas praises the officers' role as vital to clients' goal of long-term sobriety and the program's overall success.

"The cooperation we get from these guys has the most effect on the outcome of the situation," she says. "It's very unique in how quick we're able to act. A continuous dialog between the court and the police helps this program stand out from the rest."

As in any official-duty situation, officers must take care not to get too personally involved in a case or a client's life, regardless of how friendly or informal the visits may become over time. Officers do their best to keep an awareness as to what's at stake with the program and their role in it. That said, they can't make someone do what they don't want to do themselves.

"We look at it like, 'Hey, this can change their lives,'" Hinkley says. "We're giving them the tools to improve their situation. We can't make them use those tools."by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Officer Matt Kingsbury informs Judge Les Rink about the status of a particant in the city's B-SOBR program in May, during one of the bi-monthly court sessions.

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