The night watch: Keeping impaired drivers off the streets

Officer Antonio Brown patrols the streets of White Bear Lake at 11 p.m. Feb. 8 looking for impaired drivers.

He patrols the streets of White Bear Lake looking for drivers weaving over the line or forgetting to stop at a stop sign — early in the morning Feb. 9 he found one that blew a 0.09.

White Bear Lake Police Officer Antonio Brown, a dedicated DWI enforcer, started his 11 1/2-hour shift the evening prior. He doesn't respond to 911 calls with the rest of the overnight shift. He spends his time on the lookout for impaired drivers to protect area residents from tragic accidents.

It was minus 9 degrees just after 8 p.m. Feb. 8 when he pulled over a driver weaving over the line near County Road E and Highway 61. It was a distracted driver who admitted she had been on her phone. He gave her a warning.

“I rarely give tickets,” he said. “Next time, I would give a ticket.” Brown said he usually gives people a warning for bad driving behavior and distracted driving. He logs it in the department's records. If it's a habit, he will probably run into them doing it again. If he clearly sees someone texting and driving or they are defensive, he will give them a ticket.

“A teacher yelled at me because he was checking email on his way home,” Brown remembered. It is illegal to use the internet on a device while driving. People often blame Brown for their own bad choices when he is just trying to keep the community safe. But most people understand when he explains to them that he is out looking for impaired drivers.

A person he arrested for DWI awhile back even recently sent him a letter thanking him for arresting him. “He appreciated the way I treated him and was checking himself into treatment,” Brown said. “I have the motto of ‘treat others like you want to be treated.’”

At about 9:30 p.m., Brown pulled over a driver for not signaling a turn. When he came back to the squad with the driver's license, he noticed it had been revoked for a prior DWI. The man wasn't supposed to be driving. He then searched his computer for more on the driver's background.

“We have a felony warrant,” he said. Brown called for a backup from the regular night shift officers. Brown and Officer Brian Link approached the vehicle together to make an arrest. The man, wanted for charges of felony drug possession, was compliant and was swiftly taken to the Ramsey County Detention Center in St. Paul.

At 2:30 a.m., Brown found a man who appeared impaired near White Bear Avenue and I-694. Brown completes field sobriety tests with those who appear to be under the influence of alcohol or narcotics before taking them to the police department for a breath test. The man's alcohol concentration level was 0.09; the legal limit is 0.08. Brown took another trip to jail.

Brown has been an officer strictly dedicated to DWI enforcement only since last fall, when the White Bear Lake Police Department received a $95,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to fund a dedicated position.

Brown has worked in White Bear for seven years and would often volunteer to work overtime during traffic safety campaigns. He was a DWI Enforcer All-Star twice, an honor given annually by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to the state's officers with the highest number of DWI arrests. Due to his work, White Bear Lake was the only suburban city in Ramsey County last year to receive the grant funded by the National Highway Safety Administration.

Now that Brown's time is dedicated to his public safety passion, he has a goal to finish within the top 10 in the state. In 2018, he was 29th statewide, with 73 DWI arrests. He also aims to beat the White Bear Lake Police Department's annual DWI arrest record for a single officer — 99. Competition motivates him to do good, he said.

Brown's passion for traffic safety stems from personal tragedy. When he was a child, his great-grandmother was struck by someone running a stop sign and died from her injuries. His mother was also critically injured in a highway accident. An uncle and basketball coach who were cops inspired him to pursue law enforcement as a career.

Experiences on the job and seeing people texting and driving while he is driving his children around off duty has amped his passion for traffic safety. During his first year as an officer in White Bear Lake, he responded to a bad traffic accident involving drunk driving. He's seen the extremes — a wrong-way head-on collision two years ago on I-694 involving a drunk driver who was at a 0.36 alcohol concentration level.

Brown works overnights, usually three days in a row, often on weekends. Due to the grant requirements, he also works peak holidays such as St. Patrick's Day. When he's not patrolling the roads, he is a volunteer youth football and basketball coach.

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