Many people say if you're going to party in Laguna Beach, don't get behind the wheel. At least that's what Laguna Beach Police Department Det. Larry Bammer has heard people say about his city, which has garnered a reputation for DUI arrests.
Driving while under the influence, whether due to alcohol or drugs, hits home for Bammer, who lost his sister to a drunk driver in February 2003.
Jennifer Bammer was 22 when she died in a car accident on her way to Mammoth for a ski trip.
"From that point on, I really started honing my skills on drug influence," he said.
Due to Bammer's diligence when it comes to drug enforcement, his special investigations team at LBPD was named Street Narcotics Team of the Year by the Orange County Narcotics Assn. He also was designated with California Narcotic Officers Assn.'s Region V Street Level Case of the Year.
To the Laguna Beach native, DUIs aren't the only problem plaguing the city.
His goal, he said, is to see drug-related DUI arrests as common as alcohol-related DUI arrests.
With the uptick in medicinal marijuana users, Bammer said the amount of drug DUI arrests will go up.
"If you're going to take anything — drugs illegal or legal — and be impaired, don't be in Laguna because there are tons of trained cops out there," he said.
On March 30, Bammer, 32, was recognized by his department and by the Laguna Beach Exchange Club as Officer of the Year. He was surprised, to say the least.
As the Laguna Beach Police Employees' Assn. president, Bammer said it can be a difficult balancing act representing the rights of the officers and his recognition reflects just that.
"I think it reinforces that we try to have the best working relationship possible," Bammer said. "I've been here 10 years. I grew up as a cadet, did police explorers and beach patrol. I grew up through the Police Department and it was nice to be recognized."
As he put on his uniform, which carries a ribbon for a shooting he survived in 2002, he said he felt the gravity of the award.
"I felt like 'Wow'…I felt the significance of the award," he said. "It changed from being just nice to be recognized, to be a very humbling and a genuine kind of feeling."
His parents were there at the event at Tivoli Too. A retired officer that he has known for 20 years came to congratulate him. She was the first officer he went on a ride-along with.
"I think part of the reason why my peers voted for me is that they recognized over the last year all the different hats that I wear," he said.
As the sole drug recognition expert at LBPD, Bammer is teaching classes to officers on what to expect from drug users, signs and symptoms of use, and how to handle them properly, in an effort to catch more drug DUIs.
His goal, he said, is to have five or six officers trained in drug recognition so they will have at least one on staff during every shift.
He recently certified his partner and two other officers.