Rolling in Riverside: How one suburban town is boldly cracking down on drunk drivers

- A drunk-driving crackdown by the Riverside Police Department has been taken to a whole new level as they rack up hundreds of arrests, with cases ranging from dangerous to downright bizarre.

Riverside, the usually-quiet suburb just west of Chicago, is famous for its water tower and train tracks, as well as drunk drivers. 

With that in mind, Police Chief Tom Weitzel showed FOX 32 dashcam footage where a drunk driver thought the train tracks were a street.

“What you don't see is she basically had to grab her and force her out of the car, she was so intoxicated,” said Chief Weitzel. 

And that happened twice in Riverside last year. 

Then, there was a mom of 11 children, who's been called one of the worst DUI offenders in the country after her sixth arrest. And another man, who Chief Weitzel says tried to lower his blood alcohol level by urinating on himself.

“That's a first for me,” said Chief Weitzel. “I’ve been a police officer for 35 years and I'd never heard that before. And for the record, it's false. You can't bring down your alcohol level that quickly from urinating.”

Also, in 2018, two DUIs happened on three wheels. All three of these people were driving the wrong way.

"If most police officers were honest with you, they really don't like making DUI arrests,” said Chief Weitzel.

Officer Joe Mahanna is one of those officers. He patrols the streets in Riverside and made seven DUI arrests just last month.

“You don't want to have those people on the roads, so it's good to get them off,” Officer Mahanna said.

In that regard, Riverside stands alone. While most neighboring towns average just a couple dozen DUI arrests per year, Riverside is close to 100.

But why? For starters, Chief Weitzel makes getting drunk drivers off the road a priority.

“In this agency, you will never let a drunk driver go,” said Chief Weitzel. “If he or she is intoxicated, they get arrested.” 

It appears to be working. One 11-year veteran of the force just made his 600th DUI arrest earlier this year. 

Chief Weitzel also applies for -- and receives -- grants from the Illinois Department of Transportation to focus on cracking down on impaired driving. 

“It pays for the officers' overtime, it allows officers to not answer calls and focus on just being in a squad car that night just on DUI prevention,” said Chief Weitzel. 

Weitzel also has some of his officers, like Officer Mahanna, trained to be drug recognition experts, so they can find drunk or drugged drivers on the spot.

“Two weeks of in-class training and about 3-4 months of actual physical - we call them "wet labs,” said Officer Mahanna.

There, volunteers drink or take prescription drugs, and officers perform field sobriety tests.

“We check blood pressure, we check pupil sizes,” said Officer Mahanna. 

Other glaring signs of intoxication, Officer Mahanna says, include speeding and swerving.

So what can be done to curb these cases? Chief Weitzel says tougher consequences.

“They need to mandate counseling, they need to mandate follow-up drug testing, you need to lose your license for a period of time,” said Chief Weitzel. 

Or just use common sense, like rideshares, says Chief Weitzel. 

“They have the app right on your phone,” said Chief Weitzel. 

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