New Year's Eve celebrants who climb behind the wheel with too much alcohol under their belts will find more South Bay police officers waiting for them than on a normal Tuesday night.
And those who drink, and wisely want someone else to drive, will be able to get home safely courtesy of a taxicab company offering free rides and a transit system that is extending its hours.
Most South Bay police agencies will augment their regular overnight patrol strength Tuesday night, some using special patrol cars that will concentrate solely on drunk drivers and others shifting officers from daytime patrols.
"We'll have a full complement out there for drunk driving, because there will be numerous parties and the restaurants and the bars will be full," said Torrance police Sgt. Wally Murker.
33 DUI Arrests
Since Dec. 20, the sheriff's Lennox station, the California Highway Patrol and the Gardena, Hawthorne, Manhattan Beach, El Segundo and Redondo Beach police departments have been fielding a combined DUI (driving under the influence) team every day. As of Dec. 24, 33 people had been arrested under the special enforcement program, which will continue through New Year's Eve.
The DUI team is made up of officers and patrol cars from each of the participating agencies.
"We work specific target areas looking for drunk drivers," said Sgt. Hernandes Lobo of the Gardena department, which is coordinating the team.
People who overindulge in public bars or restaurants may receive free cab transportation home through two separate programs: Memorial Hospital of Gardena's Gardena Express, and Care Cab, a service of the national Comp Care alcohol and drug abuse hospital chain. Both started before Christmas and will continue through New Year's.
Gardena Express, which operates between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m., will transport people home if they live within a five-mile radius of the hospital. The number to call for service is 532-4200. Care Cab, which operates between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m., serves the entire South Bay. The number is (800) 422-4143. Care Cab will operate into the morning of Jan. 2.
100 Cabs Available
"We like this because it keeps drunks from driving and from running into our cabs," said Georgia L. Kern of the Wilmington-based United Checker Cab Co., which will provide transportation for both free ride programs. She said about 100 cabs will be available and calls from drinkers will be given priority.
On the Palos Verdes Peninsula, curb-to-curb van service by PV Transit will be extended on New Year's Eve until 3 a.m. Service will be free after 9:30 p.m., and riders may reserve trips by calling 519-1276. PV Transit serves Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills Estates and Palos Verdes Estates.
Once the butt of jokes, the drunken driver is now regarded as a potential killer on wheels and there is a $1,000 maximum fine for first-time conviction in California. Habitually drunk drivers can lose driving privileges for four years, and juveniles convicted of first-time drunk-driving can have their licenses suspended for up to a year.
"We hope that people are getting the message because we'd like everybody to have a good, safe holiday," said Capt. Elmer Omohundro, commander of the sheriff's Lomita station, which patrols much of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Some Expect Quiet Night
Local law enforcement agencies have varying views on just how busy New Year's Eve will be.
El Segundo and Hermosa Beach are expecting relatively quiet nights, although both are increasing the size of their night patrols slightly by shifting officers from the day watch.
"We hope that since New Year's is in the middle of the week it will be a break for us," said Lt. Mike Lavin of the Hermosa Beach police.
Sgt. Andy Blodgett, night watch commander of the Los Angeles Police Department South Bureau traffic division, said he expects a "lot of activity" in the City Strip and Harbor areas that the bureau patrols. "It's always been that way," he said, adding that the normal patrol strength of 20 officers will be increased by 10 on New Year's Eve.
In addition to its regular patrol units, the Lomita sheriff's station will have a special two-man DUI team concentrating on major arteries, such as Pacific Coast Highway and Western Avenue, and the winding boulevards on the Peninsula where drinking, speeding drivers sometimes go off the road.
6 Extra CHP Cars
In Hawthorne, two patrol cars that normally patrol the Hawthorne Plaza shopping mall will be shifted to DUI duty on New Year's Eve.
The CHP, which set up two sobriety checkpoints in the South Bay area before Christmas and arrested 11 people, will put six extra cars on the freeway and major boulevards on New Year's Eve.
Inglewood and Torrance have been targeting drunk drivers with special task forces this holiday season, and Inglewood has reported 46 arrests since the middle of November.
Torrance made 18 drunk driving arrests between Dec. 18 and Dec. 24, said Sgt. Murker. "We're making a concerted effort to get the drunken driver off the road."