On a recent, typical Friday evening, D.C. police officer Lewis P. Cooney, who hunts for drunk drivers as he cruises in his "batmobile" -- for breathalyzer-and-testing van -- found about a dozen people who police say fit the general description of the drunk drivers usually arrested: young white men and middle-aged black men. Both groups are often disorderly. But police say women are seldom arrested.
"The majority of the guys police prefer not to arrest women. They're nasty," said Cooney's superior, Sgt. Paul Fabian.
"Mainly, the guys don't like to handle them," Fabian said. "We get our share, don't get me wrong. To say they overlook them is wrong. It's an individual thing. Some guys bring in women regularly."
As he drove south on North Capitol Street a few minutes before 11 p.m., Cooney noticed a silver Chevrolet Nova take a wide turn onto North Capitol and head north. Cooney turned his van with the breathalyzer equipment around to follow the car, but did not stop it immediately. He waited, looking for more evidence of drunken driving, such as drifting across lane markers. The Chevrolet did just that. But when Cooney switched on his flashing red lights, the Chevrolet's driver played coy, ignoring him. The car eventually pulled over near the intersection of North Capitol and Lincoln streets.
Cooney asked the middle-aged driver to walk a straight line and then to touch his nose with his eyes closed. The man could not pass either test. This established "probable cause," a legal term meaning there was a reason to believe the man had been driving while intoxicated. As he was taken inside the van, the woman who had been with him in the car shouted: "Instead of being out here catching the robbers and the killers and the crooks, just stopping innocent people doing nothing!"
Before being given a breathalyzer test, the man was read his rights. His pride seemed hurt at being told he had a right to speak to a lawyer. "I figure a couple of beers, I don't need no lawyer."
At 11:17 p.m. Cooney administered the breathalyzer test, estimating as he waited for the results that the man had a blood alcohol content of "between .23 and .28." A breathalyzer blood alcohol reading of .10, or one-tenth of 1 percent, constitutes legal intoxication At 11:19 p.m. the digital readout appeared. "Your test result is .33. That's three times the legal limit," Cooney told the man. Cooney turned to the reporter watching this and said, "I told you .23, right? Anyone who can talk like that with a .33 has to be an alcoholic." The highest result he had ever encountered in his 2 1/2 years of work in the alcohol enforcement unit was .41, he said.
At 11:40 the man was tested again, as is the usual procedure. The result: "He's going up. It's a .36," Cooney said. Presumably, the man had consumed his last drink shortly before he was stopped.
After delivering the man to traffic enforcement branch headquarters at 501 New York Ave. NW for booking on the charge of driving while intoxicated, Cooney drove west on Massachusetts Avenue to 16th Street, where a woman was being held by two officers driving another breathalyzer van. As he drove, Cooney said most police officers prefer not to arrest women for drunk driving because women often "break bad" -- that is, react badly to being arrested. That is why 96 percent of the persons arrested for drunk driving in the District are male, he said.
At 16th Street, one officer said, "She was abusive. We had to handcuff her." The woman, who appeared to be about 35 years old, was weeping as she sat in the narrow seat next to the breathalyzer machine, her left hand manacled to the wall of the van. When one officer asked her if she was willing to be tested, she began screaming and cursing. Then, with strength not evident in her size, she jumped up, taking with her the handcuffs and ring that attached them to the wall. Three officers hustled her into the small cell at the back of the van. They said she would be taken back to the station to calm down.
"I haven't seen very many women who act different from the way she did," Cooney said. A radio call ordered him to process a drunk driver at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Elder Street NW, near the Maryland line. On the way there he stopped and arrested a young Marine who had been meandering northward in an old Oldsmobile. The Marine, calm and sleepy, was placed in the van's cell.
According to a D.C. government study, about one-third of all persons charged with drunk driving are sarcastic or disorderly. The other man arrested, who said he worked at the D.C. Superior Court, fit into that category.
As Cooney sat at the van's desk, chainsmoking and filling out forms, the man gripped the cell's bars and kept up a running monologue: "When do I get out? You don't know? Can't you write and talk at the same time? What's your name? So I assume you ignore me, right? Can I use the bathroom?" The Marine woke up and asked him to be quiet.
At 1:52 a.m. the man was tested and found to have a blood alcohol content of .18. At 2:25 it stood at .21. As he was being returned to the cell after the second test, he turned to Cooney and said, "You know what? You're going to be a cop all your life."
"Damn right, I am," Cooney responded. At 3:45 the two men were turned over to the Fourth District station. Cooney's shift was over at 4 a.m. As he drove back to 501 New York Ave., he pointed out the drunks driving home now that the bars were closed for the night.