FRESNO, Calif. — Friday night in Fresno, and the sting is blown.
"I'd like to make an announcement today that Fresno PD are doing the drunk driving operations," says the bartender at the Silver Dollar. "They're watching the bars. Ours being one of them."
They've been texting and e-mailing all over town. They know we're coming. No DUI arrests tonight, we're guessing. But in Fresno, it won't be for lack of trying.
"We're serious about impacting drunk drivers within our city," says police Chief Jerry Dyer.
That's putting it mildly.
Fresno hired 80 more traffic cops and pays for them mostly through vehicle impounds.
In other words, "violators are paying for their own enforcement," says Dyer.
The war against drunk driving here has fronts all over town.
Judges remind repeat offenders they can be searched any time, day or night, without a warrant. And when, as — amazingly — they often do, freshly suspended drivers leave the court house behind the wheel, they're pulled over within a block, and their car is taken away.
All day, all over town, cops drop in unannounced on DUI parolees. Drop in on their refrigerators, too, and their cupboards and any other place they might find booze or drugs hidden away. They find, quite frequently, that some DUI offenders are hiding serious criminal behaviors.
In one place they found crack pipes, drugs, a loaded, cocked pistol, blanks for check forging, and a registered sex offender — all in a house with a baby.
The checkpoints go up as darkness falls. Fresno, with its 500,000 people, has more DUI checkpoints than any other city — more than New York, L.A. or Chicago.
And late at night, outside the city's bars, they watch drunks weave to their cars.
And despite all that advance warning of the sting, it was a bumper night: 96 impounds, 39 DUIs.
In all of this, claim the cops, they have fully respected civil rights while getting just as tough as the law allows.
"We need to look at this as a crime," says Capt. Andy Hall. "The fact is it's not illegal to drink, but when you drink and drive, you become a criminal. And that's our job. Our job is to go after them.
Does it work, this most aggressive campaign in the country?
Listen to this: In the four months before it began, eight drunk driving fatalities in Fresno. In the four months since: One.
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