Sunday, February 17, 2008

California DUI attorneys deal with officers going after 1,000 DUI arrests

California DUI attorney have to deal with officers who have been provided incentives for most DUI arrests, like this officer who racked up his 1,000th DUI arrest.

This driver's DUI blood-alcohol level alone would have made the arrest stand out.

Terry Lee Andrews, 57, who was taken to the Bayfront Medical Center after crashing into another vehicle, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.376, more than four times the level at which a driver is presumed impaired or DUI. He had been drinking at a club before he made a U-turn into traffic.

For Officer Robbie Arkovich, the DUI arrest marked a personal milestone. It was his 1,000th DUI arrest, the most department veterans can remember by an officer.

Arkovich joined the department's DUI driving-under-the-influence unit about nine years ago. It didn't take long for him to log his first DUI drunk driving arrest.

Then Arkovich nabbed another DUI driver. And another DUI . Before long, he was racking up DUI arrests the way baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn collected hits.

Arkovich, 41, shrugs off the DUI statistics. He says plenty of other officers would have reached that DUI number if they had stuck with the job.

But most DUI officers don't stay.

Instead, they leave the unit for other jobs after a few years, worn down by having to deal with drunks every night and having to sacrifice their nights and weekends.

Some DUI people Arkovich arrests send him thank-you cards, telling him he helped change their lives. Most DUI people don't.

"I would definitely say that most people are not happy when we arrest them," Arkovich said. "It's the minority of people who understand that they got themselves in trouble."

As a young police officer, Arkovich rode along with officers on the DUI task force. He admired the work they did because it produced DUI results.

But Arkovich felt the DUI unit took people who could hurt others off the streets. The officers saved lives.

"It's one of those areas in police work where you really get to help people," Arkovich said.

So when a DUI opening came up in 1998, he applied and got a spot.

"I don't know anyone who has stayed for as long as he has," said Sgt. Keith Peaton, who oversees the DUI unit.

Arkovich's workday begins at 6 p.m. and runs until 4 a.m. He works Wednesdays through Saturdays, a lot of holidays, and has trouble remembering the last time he had a New Year's off.

Usually, he has DUI paperwork waiting for him when he arrives. Sometimes, a DUI arrest is already in progress. The department's unit has a DUI conviction rate in the high 90th percentile.

Arkovich is lean and trim. He talks in crisp, complete sentences and can delve into an explanation of case law in the middle of a DUI arrest. He rarely drinks.

On a recent Thursday night, he headed out with Officer Terri Nagle, who was back from a six-month medical leave.

While Nagle was arresting a DUI drunken driver, the woman had fallen and broken Nagle's leg.

Many DUI drunken drivers make for difficult DUI arrests. Nagle said some act polite and friendly, then explode as soon as the DUI handcuffs come out. They kick and punch, flail and spit. One woman in a cruiser managed to angle her head just so to spit on Nagle after her DUI arrest.

Arkovich's DUI cruiser has suffered, too. A few weeks ago, a young DUI man he arrested became so angry that he managed to kick out a rear window.

The DUI job is conducive to dark humor. A few years ago, the DUI task force began writing down funny quotes on an office board.

This is so unfair. I'm the designed driver, said one DUI woman, who was more than twice the legal limit of 0.08.

I'm a functional Xanax user, said another DUI .

As they headed out for new DUI arrests, and possible additions to the board, Arkovich and Nagle watched for anything that looked suspicious: a car without headlights, a driver swerving wildly, cars stopping in the middle of the intersection or driving slowly.

"Let's go fishing," Arkovich said, as they cruised through the 34th Street corridor, a hot spot on Thursday nights.

This time, the DUI arrest came to them.

An employee at a McDonald's called DUI police after a man in the drive-through reeked so strongly of alcohol that the fumes nearly made her gag.

When Arkovich arrived, a few other DUI officers were there and had taken away a large kitchen knife the man had stuffed in his pants.

Arkovich walked up to the driver, Bert Martin, a bulky 52-year-old.

"How much have you had to drink, sir?" Arkovich asked.

"Not that much ... four cans," Martin replied.

Then, he elaborated, while swaying from side to side: four 32-ounce cans of Miller.

The first DUI field sobriety test Arkovich gave him tested whether Martin could follow a red light with his eyes without jerking too quickly from side to side, a symptom of DUI intoxication. He couldn't.

Then, Martin tried to walk along a yellow line and then turn around and walk back. He wobbled.

Finally, Martin had to stand on one foot. That also didn't go well.

Back at the DUI station, Martin blew a 0.18.

Annual DUI arrests by St. Petersburg police:

2005: 558 DUI arrests

2006: 584 DUI arrests

2007: 468 DUI arrests