The Central Valley is taking part in a nationwide crackdown on impaired drivers called the AVOID the 21 DUI Task Force Winter Enforcement Program, and I was about to immerse myself into the thick of the action on a ride-along with the Clovis Police Department. From Dec. 12 through Jan. 1, DUI checkpoints and saturation patrols are keeping a keen eye out for drivers who might be impaired due to alcohol. So far, it’s worked. In the first week of the crackdown officers representing more than 21 county law enforcement agencies arrested 57 individuals for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
As I readied myself for the ride-along I couldn’t help but allow my mind to imagine what I might witness. Would I see any cars swerving down Shaw Avenue? Would anyone get belligerent when their car is impounded? Where are the hot-spots for drunk drivers? And would I get to wear a bullet-proof vests perhaps with one of those jackets that says “Media” written in florescent yellow on the back?
Take a ride with me as I chronicle my almost five-hour tour with the Clovis Police Department.
8:01 p.m. – I arrive at the Clovis Police Department and call the dispatcher to let her know I’ve arrived. She telld me to meet Officer Binford at the DUI checkpoint set up on Clovis Avenue and Palo Alto. She says I can’t miss it.
8:07 p.m. – She’s right. I come upon bright lights, lots of cones and officers positioned everywhere. A light rain has begun and I park my car, excited and anxious for the adventure ahead. I chat with Corporal Weaver, the man in charge. The procedure for the checkpoint is to stop every third or fourth car, depending on the flow of traffic and look for signs of impaired drivers.
8:24 p.m. – Officer Binford arrives in a tricked out police car – a 2011 Dodge Charger with a lot of toys. He kindly greets me and I take a seat in the front. I was 47 percent tempted to see what he would have done if I sat in the back seat, pressed my face against the wire mesh and yelled, “I’ve always wanted to do this! This is sooooooo cool!” Better judgment took over.
8:36 p.m. – Sixty seconds into our ride, turning left onto Herndon Avenue, we face a car with their headlights off. With a flip of a switch, there’s a sea of blue and red flashing lights and we are pulling the car over (and yes, I’ll be typing “we” all article). Officer Binford tells me that not turning on headlights is a sign of impairment, but this was a case of the driver accidentally turning off her lights while signaling. He also quickly discovered she wasn’t a DUI candidate since she had shopping bags in the front seat with no smell of alcohol. He said he felt like he had just stopped his mom. No ticket for her.
8:50 p.m. – Binford’s car is one of only two in Clovis that have three cameras mounted on the trunk. While cruising southbound down Clovis Avenue coming into Old Town, I hear the click, click, click of the camera taking pictures of the license plates of parked cars. A scanner then runs the plates, checking if any are stolen. Binford says he’s found maybe eight cars in the past five months that have been stolen.
9:04 p.m. – We park in a secret spot near Shaw with the radar gun and, within two minutes, snag someone going 54 MPH in a 40 zone and write ’em up. It’s very evident that Binford, who as a young man always knew he wanted to work in law enforcement, is a fair cop and treats everyone with the utmost respect. “I don’t take offense to those who argue or try and get out of a ticket,” he said. “I treat everyone like they are a human being.”
10:11 p.m. – We get a call from dispatch that someone has reported a car driving with no headlights around Alluvial Avenue. I keep my eyes peeled like a hawk, but see nothing. We report a GOA and a UTL. You know, technical terms that only we on the force understand. Okay, they mean “gone on arrival” and “unable to locate.”
10:27 p.m. – No suspected DUIs on our patrol, which is a great thing. When Binford suspects a drunk driver, he’s looking for cars that are going too fast or too slow or show an erratic driving pattern. Surprising to me, no one’s been pulled over for driving or texting either.
11:18 p.m. – Blue Diamond boots. I would like to simply defer to the picture of said Blue Diamond boots. Look out ladies, there’s a new sheriff in town and he’s wearing Blue Diamond boots from the Fulton Mall. Oh yeah, and he was pulled over for not having his headlights on. But when you’re wearing these bad boys, the reflection illuminates 1,000 square miles and the moon basques in your awesomeness.
11:42 p.m. – It’s getting late for me, so we return to the checkpoint where thankfully there’s only been one DUI arrest. Corporal Weaver said it was a slow night with around 650 total cars coming through. A normal night yields close to 1,000 total cars, but there are at least two more hours left. Social media can impact the number of cars coming through as word can spread quickly about the location of the checkpoint. That’s considered a good thing.
12:02 a.m. – One last hurrah as I take a quick tour of the command center parked in the middle of the checkpoint. I’m looking out the front window where we can see the entire line of cars when I hear “We have a runner!” and two patrol cars jet out and head southbound on Clovis Ave. Officer Binford motions for me, and we run towards his patrol car and join the chase. You know that feeling in your chest when a super-fast roller coast takes off? Well, after we turned on Sierra Avenue and Binford gunned it, that’s what it felt like. We catch up to the other two patrol cars and a red Toyota pickup truck was off to the side, the suspect already in handcuffs sitting on the curb. Apparently upon seeing the checkpoint, the driver put it in reverse, drove backwards into oncoming traffic and hightailed it. This will get you more than a few days in jail.
1:08 a.m. – After waiting for a tow-truck, we return to headquarters. In the meantime, three more DUIs have been confirmed at the checkpoint. My ride-along and adventures have officially ended.
1:15 a.m. – I drive and make my way home, going three miles per hour slower than the speed limit at all times and checking every 10 seconds to make sure my lights are on – just in case.
Paul Meadors can be reached at email@example.com.