Local products Tyler Skaggs and Lucas Giolito have hurled thousands of pitches during their respective baseball careers, but the ones they threw at Memorial Park earlier this month weren’t aimed at a catcher’s mitt behind home plate.
These were pitches of the promotional variety, made not with baseballs but with brief messages to the Santa Monica community and the general public about the perils of drunk driving.
Wearing the caps of the teams for which they play, Skaggs, Giolito and brothers Tyler and Scott Heineman served as spokesmen for the Santa Monica Police Department as they filmed short public service announcements to help local officials address an alcohol-related problem that persists within city limits.
Authorities enlisted the help of the talented Santa Monica Little League alumni with the hope that their collective star power will broaden the reach of the campaign through social media.
The videos are one component of the police department’s “Choose Your Ride” initiative, which encourages people who have been drinking to pay for a cab instead of ending up in the back seat of a squad car.
Throughout the year, law enforcement personnel try a variety of strategies to address alcohol-related issues. They use grant funding on checkpoints to nab drunk drivers and enforce other rules of the road. They also work with the state Alcoholic Beverage Control department to catch adults who knowingly buy liquor for minors.
During the recent holiday season, police placed a specially designed vehicle at popular gathering places in Santa Monica like Main Street the Third Street Promenade. The front half of the car is painted like a police cruiser. The back half is made to look like a yellow taxi.
“We really did receive good feedback because it’s a great conversation piece, so we asked [Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks] to extend it as we go into Cinco de Mayo and Fourth of July,” Sgt. Rudy Camarena said. “These are celebrations where you have alcohol consumption, and we want to make sure we continue the message: to think before you drink. … “the idea is that you choose your ride or the police will choose your destination.”
Efforts by local police to crack down on alcohol-related problems are nothing new. More than 15 years ago, Camarena and his former police partner, now-retired lieutenant Steve Heineman, were assigned to investigate vice and narcotics crimes throughout the city. Several bars and other establishments with alcohol sales permits were closed as a result of their work, Heineman said.
“These places were taking an inordinate amount of resources and time,” said Heineman, whose sons play in the minor leagues. “It became a real issue.”
Despite modest progress in recent years, drunk driving remains a significant problem in Santa Monica. Local police made 168 DUI arrests last year, according to department data, down slightly from 176 in 2014. And officers took 459 calls for service involving drunk driving in 2015, a dip from the 549 calls logged a year earlier.
The message of the “Choose Your Ride” campaign is not lost on Skaggs, a Los Angeles Angels pitcher who said he has a few friends who have paid the price for driving drunk.
“It’s so much cheaper to just get a cab,” he said.
Giolito, a top prospect in the Washington Nationals organization, said he was happy to assist police to curb drunk driving.
“It’s hugely important,” he said. “You want people to have their lives, to not risk anything. Especially with drunk driving, it’s a problem I’d like to see gone.”