Pasadena Police Officer Van Kim’s official title is Field Operations Trainer.
But unofficially, she’s known as the “Queen of DUI’s”
Some people have a knack for working with K9’s or handling emergency calls in dispatch, but Kim, she shines when it comes to keeping drunk drivers off the road.
“I’m kind of OCD,” said Kim. “A lot of people don’t like dealing with DUI’s, there’s a lot of paperwork, procedure and a standardized way of doing them … but, I’m good at it. Once I’m taught a certain way to do something, I follow it … every time.”
This attention to detail and procedure has made Kim, 51, continually recognized by her peers for her expertise. This spring the national organization Mothers against Drunk Driving (MADD Southern California) recognized her skills with DUI arrests and honored her with an award at the Skirball Cultural Center. She was also recognized by MADD in 2017 for a similar honor.
“She’s just really good at following procedure, which is what is needed for a DUI,” said Traffic Section Lieutenant Mark Goodman, who nominated Kim for her award. “She knows what to look for, what questions to ask and she follows the entire process from start to finish. This isn’t always easy.”
For Kim, a former computer drafter with a meticulous eye for detail, she became a police officer when she was 35. She was recently divorced and looking for a new career for her and her two boys.
Her brother, also a police officer at Pasadena PD, told her to apply at the Department. Never one to back away from a challenge, especially from her brother, Kim applied, took the exam, went to Police Academy and joined the force alongside her brother.
Through the last 15 years at the PPD, Kim has moved into various sections, including traffic. Which is where she discovered her uncanny superpower of finding drivers under the influence.
Kim notices the car driving without its headlights.
A car that passes a stop sign.
She will ask herself, are they driving under the influence or just having a moment?
For Kim, judgement is reserved until she approaches the car and the driver rolls down their window.
“I don’t drink, so my nose is very sensitive. I can smell the alcohol on them, even if they don’t.” Kim said. “I ask them questions and I educate them on why they are being stopped. There is an objective system to this, so I tell them everything I am doing.”
Once she starts talking to the drivers who are pulled over, her goal is to keep things easy and friendly, while she looks for other signs.
More specifically, nystagmus, a vision condition that causes eyes to make repetitive, uncontrolled movements.
Involuntary movement of the eyes.
Jumping of the pupils. The more alcohol, the more they jump.
Eyes that have a jagged movement. Not smooth, but rough.
“When I’m at a checkpoint, the bottom line is always to educate,” said Kim. “If I’ve stopped them and they are at a 0.6 limit, under the legal limit, I tell them how close they were. People are often surprised with how little it takes to get to BAC 0.8 level.”
For every stop that Kim makes, it comes with mounds of paperwork, and if an arrest is made the rest of her evening is spent transcribing her notes from the field sobriety test to get documented for the DMV forms.
It’s a long and arduous process, but Kim says it’s worth it if she keeps people safe on the roads.
“One thing people don’t know is that there are impairments that comes with drinking even if you aren’t falling down drunk,” she said.