On patrol to keep drivers safe

Service: Bel Air police officer takes pride in helping keep drunken drivers off the streets.

July 18, 2004|By Patrick Tyler | Patrick Tyler,SUN STAFF

Robert Pfarr was in a slump.

The 25-year-old officer first class with the Bel Air Police Department, who had the county's most drunken-driving arrests last year, had not made such an arrest in more than three weeks.

Pulling away from the police barracks in his unmarked 2001 white Chevrolet Impala to begin his 11 p.m.-to-7 a.m. shift on a recent Thursday night, Pfarr was hopeful. He keeps a careful watch over the several late night bars within his three square miles of jurisdiction.

Pfarr glides through Bel Air, undetected by other motorists. "They haven't quite figured the Impala headlights out yet," he said, cruising down Business U.S. 1.

It is important that he have no customary driving route, Pfarr said. "It's one of the first things they teach you in the academy," he said.

Pfarr has been with the Bel Air Police Department for six years. Two years were spent as a first cadet, in which he was assigned to traffic duty, and, after time in the police academy, four years on the night shift.

Pfarr said he chose the night shift because he was interested in drunken-driving arrests.

"It is instant gratification. When I pull someone off the road, I know I could have prevented a possibly fatal accident," he said.

While looping around U.S. 1 and out onto Route 924, Pfarr said the secret to his success is aggressiveness. "It's easy to get complacent and just answer calls," he said. "But if you aren't actively seeking crime, you'll never find it."

Pfarr hopes that his active approach will help him best his total last year - 85 arrests - with 120 arrests this year.

Pulling up to the intersection of U.S. 1 and Route 24, Pfarr spotted a car inching over the line as the driver waited to turn onto Route 24.

"That's unusual," he said, eyeing the driver in the green Nissan next to him.

Pfarr allowed the driver to turn and then followed him as proceeded down the road reaching 60 mph before Pfarr pulled him over. The posted speed limit is 45 mph. After writing a ticket, Pfarr returned to his patrol.

Pfarr and other officers recently were recognized for achievement in drunken-driving enforcement at a County Council ceremony sponsored by the state's attorney's office.

He also received the same award in 2002. Pfarr wears a merit ribbon with two red bars on the sides flanking a white bar in the center. For his second year of achievement, Pfarr received a gold star in the white section. The awards recognize the five officers with the most drunken-driving arrests from the area, which includes all police barracks in Harford County and in two Cecil County bureaus.

Joseph I. Cassilly, the Harford County state's attorney, said the awards have been presented for more than six years.

"It takes a lot of time and a certain attention to detail" to make drunken-driving arrests, Cassilly said.

Drunken drivers are put into two categories. Driving while impaired (DWI) is assigned to drivers found with blood-alcohol levels between 0.05 and 0.07, Driving under the influence (DUI) is assigned to drivers with blood-alcohol levels of 0.08 and above.

Last year, the Maryland State Police reported 23,997 drunken-driving arrests statewide.

Pfarr's co-workers are proud of his achievements. Bel Air Deputy Chief Norman Ross said the department was "very happy about Pfarr's performance." He said Bel Air is making strong efforts toward drugged- and drunken-driving enforcement.

Aside from night patrol, Pfarr said, he spends up to three days a week in court for the arrests he makes. Pfarr has not missed a court date, and has lost only one case.

Though he has received awards for his performance, Pfarr is modest about praise. "I don't do this job for the thanks," he said as he patrolled about 1:30 a.m. on a recent shift.

Pfarr said it was his lifelong dream to be a police officer. "You'll find that from almost everyone that does this job, though," he said.

About 2 a.m. Pfarr noticed a car swerving along Tollgate Road. He followed closely as the vehicle parked on Tollgate Road. "I can't stop them unless they cross the line," he said.

According to Pfarr, who also had the most "controlled dangerous substance" arrests last year, drugs are the most serious problem affecting Harford County. "No one wants to acknowledge it, though," he said.

Last year, Pfarr made a drug arrest in which police seized $5,000 in cash, $10,000 in drugs and two handguns.

Pfarr said he hopes to get his drug recognition expert certification so that he can identify both drunken and drugged drivers.

Pfarr is engaged to be married in September. He said his fiancee would prefer that he give up night work. Pfarr grinned and said, "I'll consider it, but I enjoy this too much to give it up."

About 2:30 a.m., at Pfarr's peak patrolling time, he was called to an armed robbery at the Exxon station on Route 24. Pfarr was the first to arrive and stayed until 4:30 a.m., long after the other officers. Pfarr did not end his slump that night.

"There's always the weekend," he said, pulling away from the scene. "It'll break soon."

Later last month, Pfarr broke his slump with four drunken-driving arrests in four days. As of July 7, Pfarr had continued making arrests totaling 42 DWIs this year.

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