Most of the time, people aren’t laughing or smiling when a breathalyzer is in their face. This is not one of those times.
On a Tuesday night, early into happy hour at the McCormick & Schmick’s at Anaheim GardenWalk, the moment is actually friendly and warm. Three Anaheim police officers are standing in the middle of the bar, joking around with four people at a table. Everyone else in the bar is dying to find out what is going on.
Kywan Lee has struck up a conversation with the officers a few minutes earlier, as curious as anyone else. After some chatter, Lee takes the breathalyzer and he finds out during his appetizer he’s just under the legal limit. His girlfriend tries it and is well over.
A collective “wow!” comes from the group and they all laugh. They’ve learned something about themselves and had a good time doing it. Mission accomplished. They’re taking Uber home.
“This is less ‘Hey, we’re the cops here to give you a hard time,’ and more about engaging with people,” says Anaheim PD Sgt. Rick Boyer. He and Sgt. Rodney Duckwitz and Officer Steve Anderson walk through the restaurant area of the mall as part of Know Your Limit, a public education program funded by a grant from the Office of Traffic Safety designed to make people better aware of what their blood alcohol level is after a drink or two – or three or four – with food or without.
This detail often has a colorful sidekick: A police car half-painted as a taxi cab, reminding people who’ve been drinking to Choose Your Ride. As friendly as the officers are, it’s usually the car that gets people’s attention.
“It’s an icebreaker. The mood is a lot lighter. People want to take photos,” Boyer says.
Duckwitz especially likes the ballgames.
“We park it in front of Angel Stadium and there’s tens of thousands walking past,” he says. “It gives us an opportunity to make our point. It’s amazing what a tool it is.”
Despite people often getting nervous when police first walk into a room, going to bars early, Duckwitz says, allows officers to “provide education, build relationships with bars, restaurants and patrons so that if we have to go back at some point down the road, we’ve already built that relationship.”
The Australians at P.F. Chang’s are happy to chat at the bar with the officers. One tries the breathalyzer and is surprised by how quickly he’d gone over the legal limit. The Canadians having dinner at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. also greet the trio with smiles. A few minutes later, a member of the group, herself an owner of a bar, tries the breathalyzer and is near the limit.
On their mission to engage and educate, the program is an unqualified success – with or without the colorful sidekick.
One last stop at Roy’s proves telling. A man at an office mixer calls the officers over and strikes up a conversation with Anderson and Duckwitz.
“You can tell they really want to know what we’re doing,” Boyer says.
After several minutes of joking around, the man volunteers to take the breathalyzer. He is over the limit. He laughs, though not surprised at the result. A moment later, he turns serious and tells the officers: “Thank you. Seriously, thank you.”
Another small victory. Boyer says with a smile, “I believe people inherently want to do the right thing.”