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Police to Provide Free Lifts to St. Patrick’s Day Revelers : Rides: Instead of a trip to jail, a fleet of ‘paddy wagons’ will be used to see that overindulgers get home safely.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

St. Patrick’s Day revelers, be warned: After a night of swilling pints of green beer or shots of Irish whiskey, the “paddy wagon” will be waiting.

But instead of a trip to the slammer, the cops are offering a ride home.

In an effort to reduce the number of drivers relying on the luck of the Irish to get them home safely after a night of imbibing, Los Angeles police are fielding a fleet of vans in the San Fernando Valley to provide free rides after Sunday night’s festivities.

“We’re taking people home rather than taking them to jail or to the hospital,” Sgt. Dennis Zine said at a ceremony Thursday to unveil the 10 seven-passenger minivans loaned by Budget Rent A Car of Southern California.

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Reserve officers in green plastic bowlers and sleeve garters will drive the vans, which will be parked outside 14 Irish-themed watering holes in the Valley, including Callahans’ and Ireland’s 32 in Van Nuys, Houlihan’s in Encino, McGuire’s in Canoga Park and the Irish Castle in Sepulveda.

Zine said the program--created by Officer Tom Souza--is the first of its kind in Los Angeles, and if Sunday goes well, police may try it on other holidays. On Cinco de Mayo, for instance, officers might wear sombreros, he said.

St. Patrick’s Day traditionally is a busy day for traffic officers pulling over drunks, Zine said. Owners of four Valley Irish bars and restaurants said in interviews that March 17 is the busiest day of the year, outdoing even New Year’s Eve. Some said a week’s worth of booze can be poured in the single night.

Most reference works on American slang agree that the term “paddy wagons” for police vans came into use in the 1920s and 1930s, and that “paddy"--then an ethnic slur for the Irish--referred to police drivers of Irish descent. One reference work notes, however, that it originally might have been a derogatory term aimed at the wagons’ unruly passengers.

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On Sunday, rides in the “paddy wagons” will be voluntary, but Zine said that in addition to that service, police will set up a sobriety checkpoint in the Valley to catch intoxicated drivers.

Drivers arrested at the checkpoint also get a free ride from police--straight to jail.


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