Pennington recognized as top DUI enforcer

Morgan Hill Police Chief David Swing, Sgt. Ray Ramos, Officer Steve Pennington and Cpl. Mario Ramirez at the annual MADD Law Enforcement Appreciation event in Foster City Wednesday. Ramos, Pennington and Ramirez were recognized for the many DUI arrests th

Mothers Against Drunk Driving and area law enforcement agencies this week recognized three of Morgan Hill’s finest for their efforts to remove drunk drivers from the streets, and one of the local officers made more DUI arrests last year than any other officer on the Peninsula.

Morgan Hill Officer Steve Pennington, 55, arrested 95 people on suspicion of DUI in 2012, according to MHPD Chief David Swing. Pennington, Morgan Hill Sgt. Ray Ramos and Cpl. Mario Ramirez were among those honored at the annual Law Enforcement Appreciation event organized by MADD in Foster City Wednesday. 

“No other officer, including (California Highway Patrol) officers, made more DUI arrests in 2012, from San Francisco to Gilroy, than Officer Pennington,” Swing said. “That is a huge accomplishment for an officer in a town like Morgan Hill,” especially for one who is tasked with traditional patrol duties in addition to traffic enforcement. 

The event recognized the efforts of officers in Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties to combat impaired driving, and highlighted their efforts in the annual “Avoid the 13” campaign to crack down on drunken driving during holidays and other high-traffic times. 

It’s not the first time Pennington has been honored for his vigorous enforcement of impaired driving. MADD’s Bay Area Executive Director Jody Iorns said Pennington has been “a consistent recipient” of the organization’s accolades. He has been recognized for his volume of DUI arrests every year since 2010, though 2012 is the first year he made the very top of the list in terms of the number of arrests in the tri-county area. 

MADD is a private organization devoted to stopping drunk driving and supporting the victims – including those who have died – of impaired driving. In 2010, there were more than 30,000 DUI arrests in the Bay Area, and while Iorns said while it is difficult to prove that an arrest might have prevented an injury or death, MADD posits that “every DUI arrest is an invisible victory.” 

“For every DUI arrest, a potential life is saved,” Iorns said. “We believe it is very important to recognize the work of law enforcement for keeping these folks off the road. (Officers) are on the front lines, every single day, and every hour, making a difference in our lives.” 

Pennington retired as a full-time office in December, but he remains on the Morgan Hill force as a reserve officer. He has been a Morgan Hill officer for 14 years, and in fact started as a reserve officer. 

Pennington said he was “honored” to receive the recognition from MADD and law enforcement agencies. But he is quick to recognize his fellow MHPD officers – his “team members” – for the work they do to keep impaired drivers and other suspected criminals off the streets.

Those co-workers include Ramos and Ramirez, who each logged 19 DUI arrests in 2012, according to Swing. 

In his early days as an officer, Pennington recalls a story he heard about an officer who died as a result of a drunken driver, and that has inspired him throughout his career. 

“Every year, you hear about someone who recently lost a loved one,” Pennington said. “It’s definitely a problem. I try to focus at least on what I can do to deter the problem, so it doesn’t happen to somebody in our community.” 

The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office also commended Pennington for his longtime participation as an asset in the countywide Avoid the 13 efforts. In fact, he has received a “DUI pin” from the sheriff’s office for each of the last two years, and has gained statewide recognition in Sacramento, according to Sheriff’s Sgt. Jose Cardoza.

Over the years, Pennington and MHPD have conducted numerous Avoid the 13 DUI checkpoints, and has trained MHPD officers in how to spot impaired drivers, Cardoza added. 

Pennington has also been instrumental in obtaining grant funds for DUI enforcement in Morgan Hill, Cardoza said. 

Officers tend to develop a passion for a particular area of law enforcement as they progress through their careers, Swing explained. In Pennington’s case, “Preventing tragedies associated to driving under the influence is his passion.”

“As a result, (he) has developed a keen eye for indicators of impairment both in driving habits and in assessing the driver while performing field sobriety exercises,” Swing said.