- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Sitting in a Gaithersburg liquor-store parking lot just before midnight recently, James Helton and Don Carswell watched a young passenger in a black Honda hand a bottle of Corona to the driver.
Suspecting a violation of Maryland's prohibition on drinking behind the wheel, the men trailed the car as it merged onto Route 355. After less than a mile, they lost sight of the car.
"Damn, I'd like to have gotten that," said Mr. Helton, 40, banging his steering wheel in frustration.
Mr. Helton and Mr. Carswell are neither undercover police nor county liquor-enforcement officers. They are among a handful of volunteers participating in Operation Eagle Eyes, a fledgling Montgomery County program that uses civilians to catch drunken drivers and other alcohol law violators.
They wait outside bars and liquor stores, watching for people selling to underage buyers, drinking in public or driving while impaired. When they see suspicious activity, they alert nearby officers over a police-issued radio.
They can follow people if instructed to do so by a police officer, but they are not permitted to confront anyone.
"They're merely an extra set of eyes for us," said Lt. David Falcinelli of the alcohol-enforcement unit. "Their observations are the starting part for officers to develop a probable cause for a stop."
As 911 calls have increased in the growing county, Lt. Falcinelli said, officers have had less time to pursue people for violating alcohol laws. The number of arrests for impaired driving has dropped by more than 20 percent, but he said there are as many drunken drivers as ever on county roads.
So the county came up with Operation Extra Eyes. Lt. Falcinelli said 15 people have completed six hours of training on alcohol laws and how to recognize drunk people. About seven have participated in observations.
The volunteers were selected based on the recommendations of friends and relatives who are police officers, he said, or they have gone through the civilian academy, a program that teaches civilians about police work.
The program is not common, criminal-justice officials said, and it's too early to tell whether it will make a significant difference.
Montgomery County police said the volunteers helped in 12 impaired-driving arrests and two drug-related arrests last year. Their tips led to 200 citations for alcohol violations.
None of the volunteers has testified in court, but State's Attorney Douglas Gansler said their observations could be used like those of other witnesses.
The volunteers are covered under Montgomery County's insurance policy and against liability. If they are injured on duty, they can apply for compensation. Lt. Falcinelli said volunteers have not had any safety problems and that no one has filed a claim.
The use of volunteers by law-enforcement agencies is common. D.C. and Fairfax County police train volunteers to provide uniformed security at large public events. But allowing them to tail suspicious people occasionally is unusual.

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