Petaluma police crackdown on DUI offenders

June 5, 2009 6:56:33 PM PDT
Petaluma police are taking an aggressive stand against drunk drivers and repeat offenders, in particular. It's an especially sensitive subject, in the north counties, after a fatal crash in Novato.

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People who drive in Petaluma may not want to meet Officer Matt Thomas.

"Typically we get one or two per night per officer," says Officer Thomas.

Officer Thomas spends 10 hours a day, four days a week, looking for drunk drivers in this small city with 270 liquor licenses and a no-tolerance policy.

"Well they sit outside the bars at night. I know that," says

If you check the numbers, Petaluma makes more drunk driving arrests than the city of San Francisco, with 600 the last two years which means they're on pace for 700 this year. The city is especially tough on repeat offenders. As part of a state-funded program, Petaluma targets them.

"We'll sit at their house, we'll sit at their place of employment. If we know they're suspended, we'll just watch to see if they've been driving," said Petaluma Police Sgt. Ken Savano.

For example, on Thursday night a special officer -- assigned to drunks -- identified, tailed, and eventually arrested one repeat offender. The program counts 12 convictions, so far and has support in the north counties, especially after last week. Edward Schaefer stands accused of killing a 9-year-old girl in Novato, despite five previous DUI convictions.

"It makes me wonder why he wasn't serving his time in jail. Why he even has a driver's license anymore," says Officer Thomas.

It turns out four of Schaefer's California convictions happened more than a decade ago in 1990, 1991, and 1995. And the DMV never learned of another in Nevada in 2004. Had Schaefer lived in Petaluma, police would still not have known about him, though they would have wanted to. And they do not care if such people accuse them of harassment.

"Well if you decide to drink and drive, then you can call it harassment because we will hunt you down, and we're going to arrest you, send you to jail, and impound your car. So heed the warning and you have nothing to worry about," says Sgt. Savano.

Those that do the right thing don't have to fear running into Officer Thomas.

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