How do we sell DUI enforcement to our officers and the public? As with any good product, it largely sells itself if the target audience is made aware of it. Garnering the support and response of officers and the public requires leadership, which begins with awareness and commitment at the highest level of any organization. Motivating road officers to not only accept, but also become actively involved with DUI enforcement, should be one of the focal points of a progressive traffic enforcement program. This motivation begins with the chief, sheriff, or other department head and must be conveyed from the top down throughout all levels of the organization.


  • Officer apathy can be a concern when trying to promote DUI enforcement. This apathy can result from a lack of training, so it is essential that all officers receive the most current training available in DUI and other traffic enforcement techniques, including standardized field sobriety testing (SFST).

  • It seems that many officers fear ridicule if they incorrectly enforce traffic laws. Training that improves their professional competence is a motivational force for most.

  • Internal train-the-trainer programs can be a very effective means to promote traffic enforcement training, as officers often better accept and implement training that is provided by trainers that they know.

The Value of Statistics

  • Provide officers and the public with statistics on DUI collisions, including the number of deaths, medical expenses, and property damage involving impaired drivers. Such statistics are readily available from a variety of sources, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), state governors’ traffic safety offices, and MADD. See, for example,,, 30/ncsa/,,

  • In addition to being used to educate officers and the public, data should be used as part of any management accountability model to ensure resources are used in the right place and at the right time to interdict impaired driving before crashes occur.

  • Law enforcement executives who seek public support for their enforcement efforts may also compile local statistics of the cost in life and property to their community. When citizens are made aware of the personal costs to them in human life and injury, along with monetary loss through medical expenses and property damage, they are likely to support your efforts.

  • Even if citizens are not directly involved in a DUI crash, they are affected by an increase in their medical costs and vehicle insurance rates. These statistics are the foundation of support for both law enforcement officers and the public they serve.


Working with the public is a must in DUI enforcement. Law enforcement executives should not be deterred by the occasional negative public response to impaired driving enforcement. A consensus of the vast body of research on public attitudes continues to show that the public rates impaired driving among the greatest highway safety threats and there is broad-based support for enhanced enforcement. DUI enforcement programs are greatly enhanced when an agency is proactive in garnering support for its efforts from key supporters and allies such as MADD and other traffic safety organizations, community groups, and coalitions.

Public Relations

  • A key component to an effective DUI enforcement campaign is proactive public relations. Civic and community groups are often eager to have police officers and executives make presentations on traffic and crash-related topics. These opportunities are invaluable in securing a broad base of community support, not only for the traffic and DUI enforcement programs, but for the agency in general.

  • These presentations should focus not only on safe driving behaviors and the importance of driving sober, but should also emphasize the enforcement effort. Public perception that strict enforcement is occurring is one of the most effective means of reducing driver behaviors that contribute to traffic crashes.

  • Recent analysis and study of traffic safety campaigns has demonstrated that clear and concise messages about strict enforcement are more effective at eliciting the desired public compliance than are messages about the inherent safety benefits of that compliance. When combined with actual high visibility enforcement, these messages have a synergistic impact on public behavior well beyond that of the actual enforcement effort. Nowhere has that been more clearly demonstrated as with the “Click It or Ticket” occupant restraint campaign.

  • These experiences suggest that deterring impaired driving may be best accomplished when messages focus on the likelihood of arrest, prosecution, and penal implications, rather than on injury or loss of life. Police executives should publicly convey their commitment to strict enforcement of impaired driving to raise the public perception that those who drive while impaired will be caught and punished. This commitment cannot be overstated so long as it is supported by actual enforcement efforts, and publicizing the results of those efforts serves to publicly reinforce that message.


An effective marketing and branding strategy is crucial in any program devoted to reducing impaired driving. An example is the “Click It or Ticket” campaign. This statement and accompanying exposure heightened the awareness of the public concerning the importance of wearing seat belts. A successful campaign must reinforce the impaired driving reduction strategy and be well structured. Law enforcement executives should strongly consider partnering with their Governor’s Highway Safety Office in their efforts to “get the message out.” NHTSA also encourages the use of their new impaired driving tag line: “Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest.”


While alcohol and drug use has been shown to vary widely with ethnic and cultural demographics, ethnic or cultural sensitivities should not be impediments to effective impaired driving enforcement. Impaired driving is an equal opportunity killer that causes the same pain and grief in families and communities of all ethnicities. This should be the motivation for law enforcement leaders to institute highly visible enforcement programs in all communities.

Open and Effective Communications

  • As with all traffic enforcement programs, the success of impaired driving enforcement programs in diverse communities hinges upon the openness and effectiveness of communication between law enforcement and the community. The community at large should be made aware that the enforcement effort is not intended to threaten them, but to protect them. This can often be achieved by involving community leaders in the planning process, the focusing of the enforcement efforts, and by providing feedback regarding the effectiveness of the program.

  • Agencies that have open and positive relationships with their communities should utilize these existing relationships to promote its enforcement efforts. Agencies without such existing relationships will be well served in all their law enforcement efforts by establishing ties with key community leaders, and keeping lines of communication open with those leaders year round, not just in times of crisis or when it serves the department needs.

  • Additionally, police–community relationships need not consist of people of the same ethnicity to be effective. It is the mutual interest and respect that bind such relationships, not racial or cultural homogeneity.


Each state has a governor's highway safety representative and, in most cases, a statewide highway safety office (SHSO), directed by a governor's representative that serves a coordinating role for programs, information, and funding. SHSOs are known by various titles state to state.

The mission of these offices is to educate the public on traffic safety and to facilitate the implementation of programs that reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities on the roadways. SHSOs are a great asset for impaired driving communications and media involvement, particularly for small-medium size local agencies that may not have professional staff dedicated to handling these functions.

  • For example, SHSOs frequently hold media campaigns to promote both NHTSA and local safe driving campaigns, such as Click It or Ticket, where local law enforcement officials can serve as guest speakers.

  • Most SHSOs have available, often at no charge, a variety of printed publications and media resources that are ready to be used by your jurisdiction.

  • The SHSO is also the conduit of federal highway safety funding available from NHTSA, and many law enforcement agencies apply for and receive grants to assist them in combating impaired driving. Such grants may provide funding for a variety of matters, depending on the funds available, the data-driven need of a given community, and the state's Strategic Highway Safety Plan.

  • Another resource similar to the SHSO is the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), an umbrella organization representing the interests of the SHSOs and serving as the state’s voice on highway safety at the national level. This non-profit association represents the state and territorial highway safety offices that administer programs addressing the behavior of drivers and other road users, and one of its main focuses is impaired driving. GHSA's mission is to provide leadership in the development of national policy to ensure effective highway safety programs. The Association provides a collective voice for the states in working with Congress and the federal agencies to address their safety challenges. Additionally, the organization's Web page ( contains a variety of reports, state-by-state statutory comparisons, and other information to assist local law enforcement in its efforts to curb impaired driving.


police official speaks from podium

Law enforcement agencies need the support of the public to provide effective police services for our communities. The local and national media are one of the most effective means to reach a broad audience quickly, so it is critical to develop ongoing working relationships with them. Since everything we do is in the public domain, the most successful police executives take the mission of engaging the media seriously. This approach has a direct impact on everything they do and they ensure that the media is engaged at all levels.

As stewards of their community’s safety and security, successful police executives treat each interview as an opportunity to disseminate their agency’s message clearly. With good preparation, solid messages, and knowledge of a few interview techniques, you can have a positive influence on the outcome of stories about your agency and law enforcement in general.

Getting Ready

Training to engage with the media is absolutely critical. Success in an interview is directly tied to the quality of the presentation, the ability to articulate your message, and the level of control exercised during the interview process. Don’t think an interview is a conversation or that you can “wing it.” Instead, view it as an opportunity to make a welldeveloped presentation, reflecting research, preparation, and enthusiasm. Specialized media training can better ensure success in this endeavor.


Considerable thought should be given to what you want to say and how to say it. Anticipate the issues and questions of an interviewer and equip yourself with short, memorable, positive and relevant messages. Practice, practice, practice.

Be aware of interview time constraints and the importance of optimizing every moment. Some interview situations will allow you to talk at length; however, for most, it is critical to distill your message down to 12-to-15 second sound bites or one-to-two dozen quotable words. Because you have no control over what questions an interviewer will use in the final story, each of your answers should deliver a desired message.


Basic techniques you can use to control an interview and present your message:

  • Hooking
    Take advantage of opportunities before and during the interview to “hook” your interviewer. Suggest topics, entice the reporter into your agenda, and focus on your messages.

  • Bridging
    The smooth transition from the interviewer’s question to your message. A direct question deserves a direct answer. Then, after briefly touching upon the answer, bridge to your message and your agenda.

  • Flagging
    A way to underscore, verbally and non-verbally, what is important within your answers during the course of an interview. You can use voice inflection, a hand gesture, eye contact, body language, or a phrase like, “What is really critical to know about this issue is…” to ensure the interviewer and the audience have a clear understanding of what you think is important.

  • Personal Credibility
    Remember, you’re the expert, that’s why you’re being interviewed. Use your personal knowledge and experience for emphasis and avoid speaking about police services in the abstract.
    • For example, if you can say, “I’ve been a patrol officer” or “I’ve talked to the men and women using this community policing technique,” say it. Your critics aren’t shy about their credentials; you shouldn’t be either.

Repeating Messages

An interview has a purpose and so should you. Know what you want the headline or main message to be. During an interview, repeat your message frequently. In an audio or video taped interview, you rarely know in advance which of your statements will be used in the final edit of the broadcast story. Repetition helps to ensure the audience and the media remember your messages.

Rules of Engagement

  • The Interviewer and the Audience
    Prior to any interview, find out as much as you can about your interviewer and your audience. Don’t confuse the two—the former is only a conduit to the latter. Tailor your messages accordingly.

  • The Record
    Always consider yourself “on the record” and never say anything you don’t want to see in print or broadcast. However, should you decide to say something “on background” or even “off the record,” clearly indicate the rules for that portion of the interview before you put on a microphone and be sure the interviewer agrees you are “on background” or “off the record” first. Otherwise, you are still “on the record.”

  • Language
    Remember to avoid police jargon, acronyms, and technical terms. If you need to use a law enforcement term, be sure to define it. Every member of your audience should understand your message.

  • Arguments
    The old saying goes: “You won’t win an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel, or videotape by the case,” so don’t argue. By the same token, there may be times when an interviewer is confrontational, and you may need to “step up” to the situation to maintain control of the interview. Never let yourself become a passive participant in the interview process.

  • Protect the Record
    Your credibility as a law enforcement executive depends on it, because “a lie unchallenged becomes the truth.” Bad information has a way of propagating and taking on a life of its own, unless challenged. If an interviewer asks you a question based on false data, be sure to protect and correct the record. Be careful not to repeat the false data yourself and to avoid any negative or emotionally charged statements. Don’t let a damaging story gather credibility or extra weight by letting the falsehood come from your own lips.

  • Honesty
    Always answer honestly, but never say, “No comment.” If you don’t know the answer to a question, if the answer is classified, invades someone’s privacy, or would compromise an ongoing investigation, it’s ok to say so. Answer honestly and, in doing so, bridge to one of your prepared messages.

Communication: A Vital Mission

Remember, communication is a crucial part of every officer’s job and is even more critical for police executives. It’s the only way law enforcement can develop the public support needed to perform its public functions effectively. Every media encounter is a valuable opportunity to convey who we are, what we do, and what we need to do—the job our community expects of us. Formal training in communications and working the media is available from a variety of sources, including colleges and universities. The investment in formal training can pay substantial dividends in terms of effective representation of your agency, its officers, and its programs. In addition, a Public Information Officer course directed specifically at traffic programs is available from the NHTSA. Interested parties should inquire with their regional NHTSA office.


It is essential that law enforcement organizations take the time to develop long-term relationships with their media. As with any worthwhile relationship, building a long-term relationship with the media takes a great deal of time and effort to both develop and sustain. Unless the relationship is mutually beneficial for all involved, it will fail. One key factor in ensuring that the relationship is mutually beneficial is to understand each other’s needs.

Needs of the Media
“Filling the Sausage Casing,” “Feeding the Beast,” or “Formatting the Rundown” are terms used by news producers to describe the daily task of filling pre-determined time slots with information for their viewers, listeners, or readers. Although the news of the day continually changes, the time segments allotted to report the stories remain the same. We need to remind ourselves that we are just one of the many organizations that are competing for media attention on a daily basis. Therefore, it is essential that we cater to the needs of the media by ensuring that our information is both timely and newsworthy.

Understanding the Media’s Timelines – “Being Ready to Pounce”
As everyone knows, drinking and driving tragedies occur on our streets and highways every day across North America. Unfortunately, these daily tragedies have become so commonplace that the public and the media routinely let the stories of seriously or fatally injured victims of impaired driving crashes go by with little or no recognition.

The vast majority of media outlets work on their stories on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, it is essential that agencies not miss out on opportunities to speak out about these tragedies when they occur. When a tragedy takes place, media outlets will need to speak to a spokesperson immediately, not tomorrow. If the goal is to keep your message alive all year round, then it is essential that we have a game plan in place to deal with these potential “opportunities” when they become available. Potential spokespersons must be ready to go with prepared messages. Although the time, location, and victims change from crash to crash, the “Don’t Drink and Drive” message remains the same.

Thinking Outside of the Podium – Customizing the News Conference
Media reporters require three main ingredients to tell any story—images, sound, and people. Holding a news conference in a sterile media gallery may be easy to organize, but it may not get the media coverage desired. Our organizations must be willing to think creatively if we truly want to obtain coverage. Visiting a crash scene on an anniversary date, having a family member (if they are willing) and/or the investigating officer present to speak with the media, or hosting a news conference at a local school to launch a “Safe Grad” initiative are just a few examples of different ways to present a story.

Call Ahead
There are several ways to notify the media about a news conference or other event, including a phone call, email, fax, and/or media advisory (a one-page document that includes the who, what, when, where, and why of the event). Consider using several means of contact, since the media are so busy and are tracking so many stories simultaneously. After sending out the media advisory, someone with media experience should contact each media outlet to ensure they have received the invitation and to provide a ten-second pitch about why they should cover the story. This is also an excellent opportunity to advise them of the importance of the event being covered and/or what extra steps have been taken to make their jobs easier (e.g., spokespersons being made available, visuals, statistics being made available, etc.).

Placing the Story
On the day of an event or announcement, a news release may be needed to make the media’s job easier. Part of good media relations is understanding how the media requires information to be sent to them. The news release should be timed for distribution to all media and available online at the same time as the announcement. For those media that do not attend, you can send them the news release and available press kit, with all the necessary story elements, and follow up by phone to make sure they understand the significance of the news and how it fits in the big picture, aka, “why they should care.”

Impaired Driving Law Enforcement Message
The following is a list of some of the traditional events that can be used to keep the impaired driving law enforcement message alive all year round:

  • Super Bowl Sunday
  • St. Valentine’s Day (What says “love” more than being a Designated Driver?)
  • St. Patrick’s Day
  • Memorial Day and other holiday weekends
  • Halloween
  • Cultural events in your city where alcohol is involved (e.g., Octoberfest)
  • Athletic Event Tailgate Parties—Set up “spot checks” in immediate area and let them know ahead of time
  • “Safe Grad”
  • Red Ribbon Campaigns in November/December
  • Anniversary dates—especially in local high profile cases
  • Auto Shows/Classic Car Shows—Set up drinking/ driving information booths

Each year, someone dies in an alcohol-related motor vehicle crash every 31 minutes and someone is injured every two minutes.

Source: NHTSA

Many traffic safety partners, including MADD and NHTSA regional offices, provide template media materials that can be valuable to law enforcement.


Internet technology has brought an unprecedented amount of information to the fingertips. Information that not long ago required a staff to research, decipher, and maintain can now be had by anyone with minimal effort. Access to information to communicate your missions and programs to your officers and the public alike is just a few mouse clicks away.

While Internet searches can provide volumes of information to assist you in your communications efforts, key Web sites have been designed specifically for this purpose. Appendix B of this document includes a list of Internet sites that provide valuable statistics, training, and other materials to assist law enforcement in developing a comprehensive and effective impaired driving enforcement program.

exclamation markSumming it up…

  • Use communications strategies yearround to publicize law enforcement priorities, develop public support, and publicize enforcement activities.

  • Use clear and concise messages about strict impaired driving enforcement.

  • Combine publicity with actual high visibility enforcement to create a synergistic effect.

  • Increase publicity by seeking earned media coverage before, during, and after law enforcement operations (to announce them, increase their visibility, and publicize the results).

  • Develop long-term relationships with the media.