In his 14 years with the , Officer Scott Schlager has made 1,068 DWI arrests. This is more than three times the usual number for an officer who has been around that long. It has also earned Schlager a reputation as "the DWI guy" at the station.
Schlager said that even before he joined the department, Town and Country was known for being tough on drunk driving. With four to five hundred DWI arrests a year, Town and Country police make 5-10 percent of Missouri's total DWI arrests, according to numbers from Missouri State Highway Patrol. Town and Country Police Corporal Mike DeFoe, whose DWI arrest count is just behind Schlager's at 1,050, said that ranks the department sixth in the state, a remarkable achievement for its size.
"There's so many drunk drivers out here and there's too many people getting killed by drunk drivers," Schlager said. "It needed to be addressed and I think our department stepped forward and took on the challenge to do that."
"We've taken a more aggressive approach," DeFoe said. "We have a dedicated traffic unit, with officers on night shifts working with the same philosophy, actively looking for DWIs. And the department's behind us 100 percent."
Schlager patrols the highways running through Town and Country, some nights putting four or five hundred miles on the car. His shifts are 10 to 12 hours long and he usually finds at least one drunk driver, or on a good night, as many as three. It's all about being in the right place at the right time, he said.
I joined Schlager on a Monday night shift, which he said is typically a pretty quiet one. When I met him at the station, he had just finished processing his first drunk driver of the night, whom he arrested around 7:30 p.m. He had pulled the man over for a number of moving violations, then was surprised to smell alcohol on him so early in the evening.
Usually, Schlager doesn't begin looking specifically for drunk drivers until around 11 p.m. Abrupt lane changes, weaving and failure to use turn signals are all signs of impaired driving.
"I'm always moving. Very rarely will I sit," he said. "I want to find the guy that's having a real hard time keeping his vehicle in his lane. Maybe speeding too, but I think those that are having trouble maintaining a single lane, they're more of a threat to any other vehicles out here."
Even after he flips on his lights, he continues noting things like how long it takes the driver to react to the siren, how he pulls over and whether he attempts to get out of the car after stopping. Sometimes, the driver simply turns out to be tired or, as the first traffic stop I witnessed claimed, has to go to the bathroom.
"When I'm in DWI mode, I don't write a whole lot of other tickets. It takes time, and I'd rather be getting drunks off the road," Schlager said.
Schlager worked at two other smaller police departments before coming to Town and Country and applied six times before he was accepted. Town and Country was a welcome change, with a larger and more visible police force, fewer violent crimes and much more highway to patrol.
"I felt like I had something to prove when I came here, and I knew they did DWIs. That was their big thing, so I wanted to do that. I wanted to be the best at it," he said. "Even after 14 years, I still feel that way and I've still got something to prove."
Schlager now has the most DWI arrests in the department. DeFoe is close behind, but has been on straight day shifts since last year, so drunk driving is not his focus anymore.
Corporal Jeff Wolfe is next in line with 533. Schlager said he and Wolfe work many of the same nights and have a bit of a friendly competition going.
"We feed off of each other really well. If he gets one I want to get one. If I get one he wants to get one. It's not so much to outdo the other guy, but we kind of motivate each other," he said.
Jokes aside, Schlager is well aware that a DWI stays on a driver's record for his or her entire life and never arrests someone just for the number. When he, Wolfe, DeFoe or any other police officer makes a DWI arrest, it is because the that person's driving was impaired enough to be a danger to other drivers.
"Of course, when you lock them up you get a lot of people that are like, 'You're ruining my life. I'm going to be fired from my job,'…My comment to them is, 'I wasn't with you tonight…I'm the end result of your decisions,'" Schlager said. "But then you'll have other drunks that will thank you. It's few and far between, but…it does happen. Those are the people that get it, and you probably won't see again."
Captain Gary Hoelzer, commander of the operations division of Town and Country Police, is recommending Schlager for officer of the year to the Missouri Law Enforcement Traffic Safety Advisory Council and possibly for a lifetime achievement award.
"It's not just one year's worth, but a whole career he's devoted to getting impaired drivers off the road," Hoelzer said.
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