County DUI effort proving effective

TURLOCK — Fifteen police officers were on a "saturation patrol" for Cinco de Mayo on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Four of them were in Turlock; the effort resulted in one man arrested on a charge of driving under the influence.

"Avoid the 12" enforcements, named for the number of agencies in Stanislaus County that participate in them, take place on holidays and other times when people tend to be drinking more. That includes upcoming high school graduation weekends.

Stanislaus County is in the second year of a three-year grant, funded by the federal government, that pays for regular saturation patrols and checkpoints.

Turlock police Sgt. Tony Silva coordinates the program for the county. He said that for the most part, summer holidays are a busy time. Also, Warrior Day, the end-of-year celebration for California State University, Stanislaus, students, is hectic.

Silva said checkpoints and saturation patrols make for a good "two-pronged approach."

During a patrol, officers roam their assigned areas, looking for signs of potential drunk drivers. These include seemingly innocuous habits such as driving with the high beams on and making turns from incorrect lanes, as well as more obvious weaving and driving slowly.

"Someone might be able to avoid a patrol, but not a checkpoint," Silva said. Checkpoints, however, require six officers, as well as volunteers and community service staff. "And we're only at one spot in the county."

At one recent checkpoint, a driver seemed nervous, though he hadn't been drinking. He was found to have a loaded gun and drugs in his car.

"We got a felony arrest out of it," Silva said.

Wednesday night's patrol was fairly quiet, possibly because the holiday fell in the middle of the week.

Silva said arrests aren't the only point of the effort. Officers believe if people know that police are out in force, drivers will think twice before getting behind the wheel after drinking. Also, more severe — and expensive — penalties have helped.

There's also a social stigma to getting a DUI conviction. "People will go to a party and complain about a ticket they got," Silva said. "But it's not likely they'll go and complain about getting a DUI."

It seems the publicity is working: California's alcohol-related deaths have declined 21 percent since 2005.

More enforcement is planned, especially over the next few months.

"When the weather gets warmer, people tend to be out late at night," Silva said. "(DUI patrols) tend to be busier in the summer."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at or 578-2343.