‘DUI Hunter’ Now Patrolling Streets of Montecito
Each month during the community reports segment of the Montecito Association Board of Directors meeting, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Lieutenant Butch Arnoldi rattles off about a dozen crimes that happen each month in our area. These almost always include vehicle break-ins at trailheads; stolen mail or packages; maybe a residential burglary or two.
Last week, attendees on the Zoom meeting were surprised to hear Lieutenant Arnoldi list arrest after arrest for DUI (driving under the influence), rattling off 16 arrests made in August, taking place in multiple areas of Montecito. When asked about the spike in DUIs, Lieutenant Arnoldi said there was a new deputy patrolling the streets, Lieutenant John Valente, whom Arnoldi called a DUI specialist, and “a magnet” for the crime.
Deputy Valente is a former California Highway Patrol officer, serving 26 years on the force, where most of his time was spent on DUI and drug violations while enforcing the laws on our state highways, including Highway 192 through Montecito.
“I’ve seen countless horrific crashes on our highways, and that’s what motivates me,” Valente told the Montecito Journal during an interview at Sheriff’s Headquarters earlier this week.
During his career with CHP he wore multiple hats, once patrolling with the Isla Vista Foot Patrol in the mid 1990s and spending the last seven years of his career as a narcotics detective.
“When I was in Isla Vista, I really fell in love with being a deputy, and knew that I wanted to pursue that after retirement from CHP,” he said.
So five years ago Valente did retire, only to jump right back into public service with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, being sworn in as a deputy at the end of 2019. In December of that year, he was back on the streets of Isla Vista, patrolling the densely populated enclave as a member of the IVFP.
This past summer, Deputy Valente was asked to temporarily transfer to the Carpinteria Substation due to a staffing shortage. This put him right back on the streets he was used to patrolling as a CHP officer, which includes the unincorporated areas of Carpinteria, Summerland, and Montecito. The self-proclaimed “DUI hunter” says he patrols areas where there is a high likelihood of driving while intoxicated, including near the commercial areas of Coast Village Road and the Upper Village, as well as strategic areas where people are driving from the City of Santa Barbara back to Montecito.
“I’m seeing drunk and impaired drivers from all walks of life, from the wealthy residents of Montecito on their way home from a fancy restaurant to construction workers or painters who are drinking beers on project sites and then driving home. It’s not just alcohol either; it’s prescription drugs, cocaine, heroin, meth, and others,” Valente said.
“Montecito has a really big problem that a lot of people are not aware of.”
Careful not to divulge all his tactics, Valente told us he has a knack for spotting a driver who is under the influence, thanks in part to over 2,500 hours of training, much of which was related to DUI accident investigation and drug recognition.
“I’m looking for moving violations, which includes failing to stop, drifting over double yellow lines, poor turn signal use, drifting onto the shoulder of the road, excessively high or low speeds, and other indicators,” he said.
If he sees a mechanical violation – missing license plate, expired registration, tinted windows, broken taillight, etc. – he will often follow the vehicle to see if the driver performs a moving violation. Once he approaches a driver he suspects of DUI, he detects odor from their breath, hears their slurred speech, and sees their bloodshot eyes. He then performs field sobriety tests, which may include using a breathalyzer to measure blood alcohol levels. Drivers arrested for DUI are held at the Santa Barbara County Jail for at least eight to 12 hours while the case is processed.
With more than 1,100 DUI arrests in his career, Valente has pulled over nearly 4,000 drivers for suspected DUIs and says the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of drunk drivers on the road. Valente surmises there are multiple reasons for this, including a reduction in patrol hours, which leads to lower visibility of Sheriff presence and an increase in brazen crime; a quarantine mindset which has caused more people to drink alcohol and drive; and an increase in the time it takes to get a ride with ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft.
“I see many people who are in denial about their substance abuse,” Valente said. “There are so many resources available for ridesharing, why not wait the extra few minutes and get a ride?”
Deputy Valente has been the recipient of a plethora of awards throughout his career, including being recognized multiple times by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). In June, he received an award from the grassroots organization for having 63 DUI arrests in the past year.
“I don’t do it for the accolades,” he said. “I do it to save lives.”
Valente says he is motivated by the horrific accidents he has witnessed in his career; fatalities that have caused the death of innocent people as well as the impaired drivers themselves.
“I’ve been to at least two dozen autopsies, and let me tell you, all the blood and gore I’ve seen, it stays with you,” he said. “These are avoidable tragedies. It truly is my passion to get these drivers off the road.”
Deputy Valente will be patrolling the streets of Montecito, Summerland, and Carpinteria until his temporary assignment is fulfilled.
For more information about DUI statistics and prevention, visit www.madd.org.