Who doesn’t love pizza? Gooey cheese, zesty sauce, and diced meats and veggies all baked on a flat piece of dough? Hells yeah! I’d do anything for a slice right now. And apparently, I’m not the only one.
On Friday, Feb. 13, in San Luis Obispo, you might have been arrested on DUI charges simply because a SLOPD officer wanted a pizza party. That’s right. A copy of an email from Police Sgt. John Villanti (Hey, just because I’m a shredder doesn’t mean I have to literally shred everything that comes my way!) outlines an ostensibly illegal quota scheme—without using the word “quota,” of course—in which officers were promised a pizza party if they made a handful of DUI arrests in one night.
“It should be noted that the watch fulfilled a challenge set in the beginning of the rotation by Sgt. [Sean] Gillham. He offered to provide a pizza party if the watch arrested five DUIs in a night. With Sgt. Villanti substituting for Gillham this was achieved and we are all looking forward to the pizza party which hopefully is served with dessert, too ☺!!!”
A smiley face emoticon? Really? And three exclamation points? Is this proper police procedure? I’ve seen less exuberance in a junior high school girl’s text message ☺☺☺!!!!!
And dessert, too? This is worse than I thought. I mean, come on! We know that means cinnamon sticks, the pizza party equivalent of the donut. Can you say cliché? And officers, for God’s sake, think about your cholesterol! You may need to chase down a Cal Poly student with an open container or hassle a homeless dude sitting on a public bench for more than 30 minutes or write a ticket for a couch on a front porch or issue a citation for using a gas-powered blower at a business on Sunday (yes, that’s an actual SLO Town law).
This could get serious. If a quota—excuse me, a “challenge”—for DUIs, why not one for the odor ordinance? “Alright, boys, if you write 10 tickets for bad smells, we’ll throw you a Tuperware® party!” Or smoking? “Men, if you catch five people sucking on a ciggie in public, we’ll take everyone putt-putt golfing.” Or giving away plastic bags? “Listen up, officers! Fan out around grocery stores and issue citations for single-use plastic bags; 20 citations and we’ll let you practice Tasering people in the drunk tank.”
All jokes aside, the problem with a DUI quota scheme—besides being illegal—is that DUI enforcement itself has become a racket that’s more about making money than public safety. Now, I’m not saying that people who drive drunk don’t deserve to be put in jail, but the blood alcohol level is now so low that if you have one drink at dinner, you could be considered too intoxicated to operate a vehicle. Look at the history! The first DUI law set the limit at 0.15 percent blood alcohol content back in 1938. In the ’70s, thanks to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, it was lowered to 0.10, which many considered ridiculously low. Now it’s 0.08—almost half the original limit! Take cough syrup and ka-pow! You’re legally drunk.
Officers can pull you over for the slightest reason (or no reason at all), make you do a field sobriety test, and even if you pass the test they can still force you to either go to the hospital for a blood test or the police station to blow into their high-tech breathalyzer. Yes, you had a beer. Yes, you blew a 0.08 percent blood alcohol level. Yes, you’re screwed. And if you refuse to take either test? Bam! You’re still arrested!
And that guy (or gal), who’s actually drunk drunk, swerving down Highway 101 at 70 miles an hour is still putting people’s lives in danger.
Even though you were driving just fine, even though you weren’t a danger to anyone, you’re now caught in the system, a system designed to extract money from you while lining the coffers of the municipality in which you were arrested, as well as the officers’ pockets (and apparently their stomachs, too), as they’re now earning overtime to appear in court should you try to fight your arrest. Oh, and by the way, you’ll probably lose anyway, so add lawyers’ fees on top of your fines, and don’t forget the cost of getting your car out of the impound, and have fun going to those classes.
“Class, today we’ll learn ways to avoid drinking and driving. First, if you’re going somewhere in your car, when you get there, don’t drink anything.”
Um, yeah, thanks. I feel totally edified.
Look, obviously people shouldn’t drive intoxicated—EVER!—but when you have a system that’s designed to arrest and charge anyone who’s had the slightest amount to drink and then drop a financial burden on them that they’ll carry for years, then the system is messed up!
Yes, pizza is a powerful incentive, and yes, I would throw your ass in jail right now for a slice of Woodstock’s BBQ Bird. The problem is, maybe the SLO Po-Po would too.
The Shredder is going to sprinkle Parmesan all over that slice and not have a beer! Send ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.