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Police take DUI action

June 15, 2005

Marisa O'Neil

A swarm of patrol cars hit the streets late Friday night, trolling

for any clue -- a little weave, darkened headlights, a slight

hesitation, excessive speed.

Their quarry? Drunken drivers.

Costa Mesa police hold sobriety checkpoints throughout the city

about six times a year. But Friday night's so-called saturation

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patrol, which fielded nine two-officer patrol units with the sole

intent of tracking down impaired drivers, was the first such patrol

operation the department has conducted in nearly two years, Sgt. Rich

Allum said.

"When someone looks out the window of a bar tonight, I want them

to see red and blue lights," Allum told officers during a briefing

before they hit the streets.

Costa Mesa police have a reputation for catching drunken drivers.

Officers routinely win Century Awards from Mothers Against Drunk

Driving, presented for making more than 100 DUI arrests in a year.

This year, Officer Tony Yannizzi earned his fifth one.

Yannizzi and Allum -- who teamed up on Friday -- have made

thousands of DUI arrests. Part of their success is their training and

knowing how to spot impaired drivers.

But the sheer numbers of them passing through the city mean many

impaired drivers come to the officers, Allum pointed out.

"There's just so darn many of them," he said.

Last year, half of Costa Mesa's 10 fatal traffic crashes were

alcohol-related, Allum said.

Sobriety checkpoints are one, high-profile way of bringing

attention to the problem. Though Costa Mesa police usually arrest

about 10 impaired drivers during a checkpoint, the operation's main

purpose is education, Allum said.

Friday's beefed-up patrols were funded by grants the department

received from the state Office of Traffic Safety in a program called

Remove Aggressive and Impaired Drivers. It added eight police cars

and a helicopter patrol to the regular DUI roving patrols the

department fields four days a week.

"These are more effective than checkpoints, but they don't educate

as many people -- just the person getting arrested," Allum said. "But

it serves a purpose. It takes an impaired driver off the road."

The patrol cars headed out just before 9 p.m. Friday.

Erratic driving can give officers cause to pull over a driver. So

can a broken tail light or darkened headlights after nightfall.

During their first half hour on the street, Allum and Yannizzi

made a rapid succession of four car stops for minor vehicle code

violations. None of those drivers was impaired, and all were let off

with a warning.

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