An emotional ceremony in Trenton recently recognized Officer Luca Piscatelli of the Bloomfield Police Department, who made the most DUI arrests in Essex County in 2011.
“New Jersey Remembers” took place April 24 on Memorial Drive near the Trenton War Memorial, honoring those who have helped lower DUI incidents in New Jersey, as well as family members of people who were killed by drunk drivers.
“It was a very touching ceremony,” said Piscatelli. "There was one police officer from Ocean Gate who lost his father and his partner. It was real humbling.”
A candelit procession, in which family members carried photos of loved ones lost, preceded speeches by law enforcement and traffic safety officials. Piscatelli's 21 DUI arrests led the county, and the Bloomfield Police Department's 79 arrests were also among top-performing departments in the county.
“Luca has other duties so his twenty-one [arrests] is very significant,” noted BPD Lt. Charles Rocco, who spoke to Patch along with Piscatelli. “He handles accident investigations, crime scene investigations and processes all arrests. For him to lead the county [in DUI arrests] speaks highly of his work ethic.”
Though all Bloomfield police officers are encouraged to take field sobriety training, Piscatelli said he has voluntarily taken related courses such as ARIDE (Advanced Roadside Impaired Detection Enforcement) and Breathalizer Operator training.
Piscatelli spoke at length about his work, saying several grants awarded to the police department have helped him do his work more effectively. He gave a brief overview of telltale signs that a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Swerving or tailgating, he said, will alert an officer, as well as driving too slowly, turned-off headlights or high beams. More subtle signs can be a disheveled or odd appearance and driving hunched over the steering wheel. “You have an idea before you pull them over,” he said.
After a driver is asked to stop and get out of the car, three field sobriety tests will be administered. They are the "Horizontal Eye Nystagmus Test", the "Walk and Turn Test" and the "1-Leg Stand" Test.
The nystagmus test is most reliable, said Piscatelli. Jerky, involuntary eye movements and the visual inability follow an object smoothly is a clear indication that there is a high level of alcohol in the person’s bloodstream.
“There's no way to fake it,” he explained. “There are alcoholics who can pass other field sobriety tests but the nystagmus test can’t lie. The higher the BAC (blood alcohol content) the more pronounced the jerking will be.”
The Walk and Turn test, which requires the subject to count, also measures the ability to execute two consecutive 9-steps and turn. The 1-Leg Stand Test requires the subject to raise one leg 6” off the ground for thirty seconds without swaying or losing balance. In both cases, coordination and balance are key, as well as a willingness and ability to follow directions.
As for “breathalizer” tests, Piscatelli said some drivers who have a low tolerance for alcohol may pass them but it still may be unsafe for them to operate a vehicle. “They might blow .06, which is under the limit, but they’re still impaired,” he said.
Piscatelli, who is currently in his seventh year on the job, says drugs – even prescription medications – are often the cause of DUIs. “And cell phones can lead to horrific crashes,” he added. “You lose your concentration, look away, over-correct.”
As many drivers know, the penalties for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence are more stringent than ever. Even a first-offense alcohol or drug-related DUI with a BAC of 0.10% or greater can result in a fine of up to $1,000, a license loss if seven months to a year, a prison term of up to 30 days, community service and the necessity of something called an ignition interlock device.
“An ignition interlock is installed so if the car detects alcohol [on the driver] it won’t start,” explained Piscatelli.
Click here to see the State of New Jersey’s complete list of DUI penalties.)
Piscatelli has recently been notified that he will recieve an additional award next month, this one from the New Jersey Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The award is being given for "outstanding and distinguished service to the community for saving lives by preventing crashes by arresting impaired drivers." The ceremony will take place at Middlesex County College on June 14.