By Eric Christensen
Each and every day, we all make a variety of decisions. Some of the decisions that we make have no real consequences:
- What shoes will I wear?
- Should I have a sandwich for lunch or Chinese food?
These are decisions that are not likely to affect others. Other decisions, however, could impact others. Unfortunately, many times we don't recognize the big ones until something goes wrong and then we spend a lot of time trying to rationalize the behavior that we did. It's human nature — and we get to see a lot of it down here at the Police Department. I call it the “Excuse Train;” my kids hate that. They'll be in the middle of telling me how they were not responsible for something that happened and I do the "Choo, Choo — What's that, Katie?" and the normal reply is "It's the Excuse Train, Dad! I know...”
As Police Officers, we try to use predictive behavior to thwart crime. A former boss once told me: "Eric, you should never be surprised that on Cinco de Mayo, we are gonna need more help — it's on the same day every year.” Words to live by. February is Stalker Month. Robberies rise in the winter. It's all part of law enforcement.
December, it turns out, is the month of drunk drivers and death notifications. Our officers will spend their time and efforts finding people who have made irresponsible decisions and believing that the holiday gives them an excuse for their bad behavior. After being arrested, while driving to the station, the drunks will then tell us that they are going to kill our cats, dogs, and children because we are ruining their lives by arresting them. Upon arrival at the station, we will find that the driver has wet his pants because we don't give potty breaks. And then, like clockwork, the Excuse Train will arrive — Choo, Choo! — with how they can't believe this is happening to them and that it’s all someone else’s fault. At the risk of sounding jaded, it's the same routine every year.
It's also the time that we get the opportunity to visit the victims. It goes pretty much the same. We get a call from a Coroner’s Office asking us to go to a resident's home to tell them their loved one has been killed — certainly not something you want to do by phone. We drive to the house (which always turns out to be filled with the nicest people), sit out in front for a few minutes, and figure out the best way to forever change and probably destroy the lives of this family. Then we ring the doorbell and in a span of 15 minutes or so we are supposed to make this the best situation we can. I can remember every one of these visits that I have done in my career. All officers can. It's one of the worst things we have to do.
So here it is. You knew it was coming. The Soapbox. When you decide to drink and drive, that is a bad decision. There is no "legal limit." At 0.08, I don't have to prove you are drunk — it's assumed. Every experienced officer has, at some point, arrested someone who has "only had one drink." Just so we're clear, every time we arrest a person for drunk driving, we presume that we just saved a life — a wife, a husband, a kid who was going to college — and prevented one of those awful visits. As a parent, I talk to my kids and I don't let them make bad decisions, especially those that will ruin their lives forever. Make sure your kids know that they can call you anytime, day or night, if they are tempted to make a bad decision. Tell them this tonight.
But it won’t happen here, Chief! Yeah, right. A couple of nights ago we got a call for a car accident. Solo driver hits a fire hydrant at 3AM. Driver is 17 and found with blood alcohol at twice the limit. When Mom shows up, she says it was the fog that caused the accident, not her drunk 17-year-old son. But there was no fog. Meanwhile, yes, the kid wrecked a fire hydrant, but what if it had been a neighbor or child on that sidewalk? In this case, even the parent was riding the Excuse Train.
We've got the equipment. We've got the training. We know where the restaurants and bars are. We know what time Christmas parties end. And since we also know that we don’t want to make any of those family visits, we are hiding in the bushes. If that helps you convince yourself that you shouldn't drink and drive, so be it. If you do make that bad decision, however, rest assured that we are going to do our best to arrest you, allow you to mess your pants, and do our best to ensure that you face tens of thousands of dollars of expenses. Because you made this bad decision, not us. If you see someone that gets into a car and shouldn't, give us a call at 284-5010 or send an anonymous email to 94549Tip@so.cccounty.us
Eric Christensen is chief of the Lafayette Police Department.