BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Eyewitness News continues its in-depth series "Kern Under the Influence," with a behind the scenes look at what goes into catching and arresting a drunk driver.
Eyewitness News reporter Jeff Platt also examines if the understaffed law enforcement departments in Kern County are enough to combat the issue and stop drunk drivers from causing harm.
No matter what day of the week it is, Kern County's law enforcement will catch a drunk driver, the question is how many will they catch.?
The question you should be worried about, is how many will they not catch?
Traffic Officer Robert Tyo works the overnight shift.
“My job as a traffic officer is to keep the road safe," he said.
Every night he drives the streets of Bakersfield searching for drunk drivers.
Sometimes it's like finding a needle in a haystack.
"There's thousands of drivers on the road at any time and it's just a matter of pulling over the right car and trying to prevent that next tragedy," Tyo said.
Other times, it's like shooting fish in a barrel.
"I’ve had to arrest six people for DUI and that's in one 10-hour shift," he said.
On the Wednesday, Platt went on a ride-along with Tyo. It was a haystack night.
After a few hours, Tyo pulled over a white SUV with no headlights on the dark road.
When Tyo asked the driver how much he’d had to drink, he said, “Nothing.”
But Tyo called for backup – he had seen and smelled the signs.
"I smell the alcohol. He's got red eyes slurry speech, he won’t make eye contact, stuff like that," he said.
Once the other officers were on scene, the tests began.
The driver didn’t follow Tyo's field sobriety test instructions and didn’t display tremendous balance or coordination.
So, it was on to the next test – the Breathalyzer.
The results? The driver tested at 1.6, twice the legal limit.
He was arrested.
That was one of the good outcomes.
"Every DUI that I arrest that's just out driving around, who knows what could've happened. They could've hurt themselves, another. They could've killed someone. I don’t, I don’t know,” Tyo said.
That alternate ending happens all the time here in Kern County.
It’s a reality traffic Sgt. Jeff Saso understands.
"Unfortunately, there’s some instances we’re not going to catch every person who’s driving under the influence. It’s, it's a fact of life," Saso said.
He said BPD is doing everything to catch drunk drivers – things like check points, saturation patrols, and having every officer DUI-trained.
But the drunk drivers outnumber the police and officers can't be everywhere at once.
That's why Saso is deputizing you.
"We hope that the motoring public is out, you know, not only looking out for their safety, but the safety of other drivers."
For Saso and Tyo, DUI is a community issue, and it's going to take a community to stop it.
A quick call to 911 with a location and partial plate could be the difference between a fatal crash or a driver under the influence ending up behind bars.