Two UC Riverside Police Officers Honored Again for High Number of DUI arrests in 2011

UCR Officers Michael Garcia and Joseph Lara were among 150 awardees who accounted for 72 percent of Riverside County’s DUI arrests

UCPD Officers Joseph Lara and Michael Garcia

UCPD Officers Joseph Lara (left) and Michael Garcia (right) stand with the plaques presented to them by MADD.

Written by Jeanette Marantos

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) For the second year in a row, UC Riverside police officers Michael Garcia and Joseph Lara have earned honors for having the highest number of DUI arrests in their department.

Both men also have personal experience with what happens when drunk drivers aren’t stopped in time. Lara narrowly avoided a head-on collision with a highly intoxicated woman when he was training as a police officer a few years ago. The driver’s blood alcohol level registered nearly .20, he said, more than double the legal limit of .08.

Officer Michael Garcia

UCPD Officer Michael Garcia

The price was more severe for Garcia, whose aunt was killed by a car thief who was driving drunk down a one-way street, trying to elude police. “My aunt was doing everything she should have been doing, but she got caught in a head-on collision,” Garcia said. “I was just 11 or 12, but I could see the pain. She died a few days later, and she didn’t go peacefully. Even since then, I swore I would never get behind the wheel drunk and I would do whatever I could to stop people from drinking and driving.”

Lara and Garcia were among 150 law enforcement officers in Riverside County who were recognized for their DUI enforcement at the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)/Avoid the 30 Law Enforcement Recognition Event and DUI training Seminar at the Riverside Marriott Feb. 22.

The 150 honored officers collectively made 72 percent of the county’s DUI arrests last year, said UCR Police Chief Make Lane. Within the UC Riverside police department, Lara made 41 arrests in 2011 and Garcia made 25, a total of 66. The year before, the men had a combined total of about 37 arrests.

Lara said his arrests jumped from 12 in 2010 to 41 largely because he spent the year working the graveyard shift. “The average time for these arrests is between 1 and 3 a.m.,” Lara said. “There aren’t that many vehicles on the road at that time, so when you see a violation—someone swerving in their lane, for instance—they stand out more.”

Although they limit their patrols to the streets around the university, both officers said students make up less than half of their DUI arrests. “UCR is centrally located around the 91, 215 and 60 interchange. There are numerous bars in the area, so we get lots of drivers coming through,” said Garcia. “The majority of our arrests are around the Blaine, University and Iowa (streets) corridor, and the majority are not college students.”

UCPD Officer Joseph Lara

UCPD Officer Joseph Lara

DUI arrests are also more difficult and time consuming than most misdemeanors, the officers said. DUI offenders just can’t be cited and sent on their way. First, the officers use questions and field sobriety tests to determine if the drivers should blow into the breathalyzer to estimate their blood alcohol content. The legal limit is .08 percent blood alcohol content, but that number is misleading, Lara said.

“It’s not illegal to drink and then drive, but if your driving is impaired by your drinking, that’s bad. If your driving is impaired, you don’t have to be at a .08. If someone weighs just 100 pounds, even one or two drinks can impair their driving, even though they register at a .06.”

If drivers are arrested, most are booked into the Riverside County Jail for four to six hours to sober up, their car is impounded and their driver’s license is immediately suspended. Officers then need to write out reports and appear for two court hearings—one to determine if the license should continue to be suspended and the second for the criminal offense of the DUI.

Clearly, a DUI arrest can be devastating, and sometimes, the officers said, there is room for discretion. “We do understand that people make mistakes, and we can offer some leniency,” Garcia said. “I don’t always tow people’s cars, or book them into jail. A lot of times, if they’re younger, I’ll call their mom or dad and ask them to pick up their son or daughter, give them their citation and tell them their court date is on such and such a day.”

But that leniency doesn’t stop the arrests. “I’ve felt bad for people when they start breaking down and crying as they get arrested for a DUI, but at the same time, I have to save everybody else from getting hurt by them,” Lara said. “I tell them, ‘If I let you go, I’m responsible for whatever happens, especially if you’re driving a vehicle.’”

Michael Garcia Plaque

A close-up of the plaque presented to Officer Michael Garcia.

That grim reality helps keep their job in focus, the officers said.

“I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite—I was in the military and there were times when I drank too much, but I didn’t drive,” Garcia said. “I tell people to do the right thing—have a designated driver and if that falls through, get a taxi, or as hard as it sounds, don’t drink at all.

“It’s tough sometimes (making DUI arrests) but what happened to my aunt is always in the back of my head,” Garcia said. “I always think, ‘If I can get a DUI driver off the road, then I potentially have saved a life.’”

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