Drunken drivers meet their most determined foe

Officer Kenneth Garrett of KCK is one of the nation’s leading enforcers, advocates say.

03/12/2012 12:02 AM

05/16/2014 6:13 PM

The name Kenneth Garrett is not uttered fondly among some who regularly inhabit barstools in Kansas City, Kan.

And that’s OK with the veteran police officer.

If people are foolish enough to drink and drive, he wants them to know one thing: He’s out there looking for them.

It’s a job he’s done for nearly 20 years. And it’s a job he does well.

Last year, Garrett made more than 400 arrests for DUI. Over the course of his career with the Kansas City, Kan., Police Department, he has escorted approximately 10,000 impaired-driving suspects into the cozy confines of a jail cell.

Those numbers put Garrett among the most prolific enforcers of DUI laws in the country, said a spokesman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In Kansas, no other officer comes close, according to state statistics.

Garrett’s commitment is not driven by any personal tragedy. He’s never lost a close family member or friend to a drunken driver. For him, it’s simply something that has to be done to prevent that kind of tragedy from befalling more innocent victims.

“Everybody finds their niche at some point,” Garrett said. “My little niche is finding drunks.”

And sometimes they find him.

Three times while on duty, drunken drivers have collided with Garrett’s patrol car. One time it was on purpose. The driver of a stolen van backed into and onto the hood of the patrol car. He was clad only in women’s pink panties when Garrett took him from the van.

Garrett’s career is peppered with humorous oddities such as that one. Once he arrested the drivers of two large RVs that crashed while racing around a parking lot at Kansas Speedway.

But enforcing drunken driving laws is serious business for Garrett.

“You get tired of the drunk drivers,” he said. “You see all of the property damage, all of the injuries and all of the deaths they cause.”

As the police department’s DUI coordinator and only full-time DUI enforcement officer, Garrett hits the streets at 9 p.m. and works until 5 a.m. His methods for finding drunken drivers vary. Sometimes he’ll park and run radar at certain locations based on traffic crash statistics. Other times he’ll drive around looking for signs of impaired driving.

He’ll hit different locations on different nights of the week.

He looks for drivers who are weaving, making wide turns, straddling lane dividers or driving at night without headlights.

About half of the arrests he made last year resulted from that kind of “self-initiated” patrolling. The others involve stops by district patrol officers who suspected they had a drunken driver on their hands and called Garrett to assess the situation, conduct testing and book any arrestees.

Making DUI arrests is not a simple “book ’em, Danno” operation.

The process is complicated and time-consuming. Machines used to measure blood alcohol level have to be tested regularly. Testing must follow precise guidelines. The law requires the reading of a lengthy advisory to the person under arrest. Mounds of paperwork must be filed with the state.

Any deviation from the protocol can result in the case being thrown out.

Speaking of court, despite working nights, Garrett spends two to four days a week at the courthouse to testify. And in DUI cases, there is often a second administrative hearing involving the person’s license suspension. The arresting officer must attend those as well.

To Garrett, it’s just all part of the job.

“I wouldn’t do anything else,” he said.

Another part of the job involves dealing with sometimes angry, unpredictable people. The unpleasant odors of vomit and urine have to be sanitized out of patrol cars. And verbal abuse just comes with the territory.

Then there are the bribery attempts from people desperate to get out of their predicament.

“I get all sorts of promises for sex or money,” he said.

But those vain attempts at freedom are duly recorded on his patrol car’s dash camera video system.

“Everything I say and do is on camera,” he said.

Capt. Moses Toledo, who heads the department’s traffic support unit, calls Garrett the consummate professional. Maintaining the equipment and handling reports and statistics required by the state are all part of the things he does “like clockwork,” he said.

“It’s a really demanding position,” Toledo said. “He’s definitely an asset to the department.”

Carl McDonald, national law enforcement initiatives manager for MADD, said he has seen instances of officers in other states making more than 300 yearly arrests.

But he said it’s rare to see an officer like Garrett, who has consistently recorded such a large number of DUI arrests for such a long period.

“That’s an unusual feat in the realm of DUI enforcement,” McDonald said.

The results of all breath testing done in suspected DUI cases must be sent to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Last year, Garrett submitted 290 tests to the agency.

“That’s a huge number,” said Chris Houston, supervisor of the state’s breath alcohol program. “The next closest individual had 87.”

Those numbers would not reflect the actual number of arrests, she said, because they do not include cases where the suspect refused to take the test or was injured and taken to a hospital, where a blood test could have been done to determine blood alcohol content.

Garrett says he encounters plenty of people who refuse to take the test, especially those who are repeat offenders.

He has arrested one man 12 times.

“He won’t do the tests anymore,” Garrett said. “He stopped doing them about eight tests ago.”

Despite the abuse and spittle that gets hurled his way from people angry about being arrested, Garrett said he stays focused on the main reason he zealously pursues drunken drivers.

And he tells them so.

“I’m trying to make sure you don’t hurt yourself or somebody else,” he said.

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