Two Arlington County Police officers and three Pentagon Police Department officers were honored for their efforts in combating drunk driving in 2006. They were recognized at the 16th Annual Awards for Excellence in Community Service and Public Safety.
"Thank you for being aggressive and not allowing drinking and driving to be socially acceptable," said Jim Ballard, Deputy Chief of the Pentagon Police Department. One of his officers, Scott Cook, recorded 283 driving under the influence (DUI) arrests in 2006, receiving a thunderous applause from an audience of law enforcement officials and advocates drunk driving prevention. Donald Pisman and Mark Traxler, also of the Pentagon PD, also received the award. Fellow law enforcement officers from the Arlington County Police Department were among those honored, too. Officers Glen Buss and Jason Vandemark combined for 45 DUI arrests in Arlington, an area increasingly more popular as a nighttime destination in the metropolitan region.
According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 359 alcohol related traffic fatalities in Virginia in 2004. While that number constitutes a decrease from 367 alcohol related traffic fatalities in 2003, it is still high.
"Drunk drivers continue to kill," said John Marshall, Virginia’s Secretary of Public Safety. "There are 47 DUI related deaths each day across the nation," he said, speaking at an award ceremony for law enforcement officers and others fighting drunk driving. The ceremony was held at the Best Western Tysons Westpark Hotel in McLean on Friday, May 18. It honored police officers from 17 jurisdictions in the Northern Virginia area.
Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Gerry Connolly (D-At large) said his daughter is a sophomore in high school who is learning to drive. In his office, he said, he keeps on the wall a map that shows teenage driving accidents in the area, many of which are alcohol related. "I keep this map in my office because I want everybody in this community to know how important this issue is," said Connolly. Even though teenagers cause those accidents, he said adults also have a role to play. "We as adults bear responsibility for this, too. We must not be passive," said Connolly.
"Underage drinking and driving is a real concern to this community," said Elwood Jones, director of Fairfax Alcohol Safety Action Program, a group that co-hosted the ceremony with the Northern Virginia chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Jones saluted the efforts of the honored police officers for their important contribution to public safety. Executive Director of the Northern Virginia chapter of MADD, Michael Green, joined in the salute. "All of the people here can be proud of their work," said Green. A vehicle operated by a drunk driver, he said, constituted a four-to-five thousand pound weapon.
MARSHALL, WHO STARTED his law enforcement career in the Virginia State Police in 1980, said most drunk drivers are not belligerent, falling when they walk or weaving all over the road when they drive. Rather, they are hard to recognize, and it takes proper training for police officers to apprehend such drunk drivers. "It takes a real commitment to arrest these people," said Marshall. He congratulated the honored police officers and their families. "Let me assure you that you do make a difference each and every day," said Marshall.
The efforts of the honored officers are to be credited for a significant decrease of alcohol related traffic fatalities this year, said Debra Gardner, executive director of the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program. From January to May 15, 2007, there have been 63 fewer fatalities in Virginia than in the same time period last year, according to Gardner.
Master of Ceremony Gail Pennybacker, a 21-year reporter with ABC 7 News, covered many law enforcement operations in her career, including drunk driving arrests. "I can see how much patience you have, how much courtesy you use," when making the arrests, she said as she addressed the police officers. A drunk driving arrest becomes a pivotal moment in the lives of offenders, preventing them from causing harm to themselves and others, she said. "Don’t ever think for a second that you don’t have an impact on other people’s lives," said Pennybacker.