State trooper Lisa Steed is the first woman to be selected as Trooper of the Year in Utah for her record of hundreds of DUI arrests. She was celebrated as having a type of sixth sense for drunk drivers that allowed her to rake up an unprecedented number of hundreds of such arrests in a year. She is now a former trooper after her arrests were found to be invalid. What is striking is how prosecutors long suspected that Steed was unreliable as a witness but she was allowed to continue to abuse citizens. Ironically, in an interview during her illustrious career, Steed referred to her work as a “numbers game,” where she assumed that one in every 10 drivers stopped for a violation is driving impaired.
Steed is trying to get her job back as various drivers are suing the state for her false arrests. One lawsuit recounts how drivers faced employment and financial ruin over their false arrests while Steed was being celebrated as a supercop. The lawsuit notes that Steed was off the charts in her raw number of arrests but the Utah Highway Patrol made no inquiry as she set a state record of 400 arrests. She made some of these arrests after drivers passed sobriety field tests.
Lt. Steve Winward simply told the press at the time that “with her training and experience, it’s second nature for her to find these people who are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” It now appears that the “second nature” was to simply arrest everyone to the applause of people like Winward.
In May 2010, a memo written by Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Rob Nixon raised Steed’s “pattern” of questionable DUI arrests. The memo noted that she relied on impressions that were unreliable and found flawed. Yet, the UHP allowed her to continue to abuse citizens. In April 2012, prosecutors admitted that they would not rely on Sneed due to her dubious arrests that often were thrown out in court. Yet, she was allowed to continue to abuse citizens.
It was not until April 2012 that Sneed was finally taken off patrol and then fired in November 2012.
The scandal shows how much of our enforcement efforts are driven by pressure to “get the numbers up” on arrests. The UHP was obviously not particularly concerned about the abuse of citizens as it was rewarding officers for maximizing arrests. Sneed is not the only officer who should be fired given this record.