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06-29-08, 03:23 AM #1
When Pros Drink, These Cops Drive
S.D.-based car service for athletes all over U.S.
By Kristina Davis
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
June 28, 2008
It's 1 a.m., and George Anderson has been roused from bed by a phone call asking him to go to work.
Not for his day job as a police sergeant for the San Diego Unified School District, but for his other gig, as a chauffeur of sorts.
Anderson is one of several local cops who moonlight for Safe Ride Solutions, a members-only, DUI-prevention car service that puts off-duty or retired police officers in the driver's seat.
The San Diego-based service caters to professional athletes in more than a dozen cities nationwide. Its biggest local client is the San Diego Chargers.
For an average of $200 to $300, players who want to drink but not drive can be shuttled around town for the entire night, or they can merely call for a ride when they are ready to head home.
The team became the first in the NFL to offer the program to its players and staff in 2006 in hopes of avoiding alcohol-related arrests that have made for frequent headlines.
The business venture was dreamed up by Gary Lawrence, a San Diego police detective who was spurred into action the day he heard that Chargers linebacker Steve Foley had been shot by an off-duty officer in a drunken-driving altercation.
With business partners that include former Chargers fullback Lorenzo Neal, two police officers and a local entrepreneur, Safe Ride Solutions has since expanded to eight other NFL teams.
“We know there's a niche to fill, and we're happy to fill that void,” Lawrence said. “If people aren't getting behind the wheel after they've been drinking, I'm happy.”
Anderson's middle-of-the-night call leads him to a North County sports bar, where a San Diego Charger spent the evening signing autographs and socializing but is in no shape to drive home.
Anderson drives the player and three of his friends in the athlete's luxury car, while Anderson's wife follows in her own car. Then the couple head back home to catch a little more sleep.
“The income is nice, but I do it more for the volunteerism,” said Anderson, who has had several friends maimed or killed by drunken drivers over the years. “I do it because it's something close to my heart.”
Lawrence, who is assigned to the department's Northern Division, said the idea just popped into his head one day.
“I've seen people get arrested throughout my career for DUI,” he said. “They could have no other criminal activity but a DUI, and it can have devastating effects.”
Especially for NFL players. Last year, amid a rash of player arrests, the NFL commissioner unveiled a stricter personal-conduct policy with stiffer sanctions and a zero-tolerance attitude on repeat offenders.
Besides facing possible jail time, a player can be docked up to $20,000 in pay for his first DUI arrest. Subsequent offenses can cost a player suspension without pay to ultimately banishment from the league, according to the NFL's policy on alcohol.
For Lawrence, Foley's shooting was the catalyst.
The gunshot wounds ultimately ended the athlete's football career. Foley is suing the city of Coronado and Officer Aaron Mansker, who shot him, for unspecified damages for past and future earnings and medical expenses. The civil trial began last week.
“It was one of those 'perfect storm' situations,“ Lawrence said. “The day I heard about that, I thought, 'I need to do something.' ”
The day after the shooting, he pitched his idea to Dick Lewis, security director for the Chargers, and the team signed on soon after.
Elsewhere, clients include the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans, St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns, as well as Hollywood actors and business executives.
“It's something we encourage clubs to do,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. “It's a very good practice teams should make available to players in some way. It's a resource to help avoid problems.”
The Chargers pay an annual membership fee for each employee of the organization, but it is mostly up to the individual to pay for the rides. When a player asks for a ride, it is kept confidential and is not reported to his bosses, Lawrence said.
The car service costs $50 an hour for a minimum of four hours.
Lawrence said the team sometimes will pick up a portion of the expenses.
He declined to specify how much money the business is earning, except to say, “We are happy with how business is going.” He earns about $80,000 a year as a detective.
The company employs 50 officers from agencies around the county who give rides in their spare time, and it employs more than 350 officers nationwide.
In San Diego, officers are generally allowed to work a second job outside the department, save for a few restrictions. Officers are not allowed to work as bodyguards, bounty hunters, process servers or private investigators, or as anything that would embarrass the department.
“I wanted a certain type of officer who was low-key, easygoing, friendly – someone who clients would feel comfortable with,” Lawrence said. “They are someone you can trust. If you need help coming into the house and being put to bed, you don't have to worry about a Safe Ride driver taking your Rolex.”
The officers sign confidentiality agreements to prevent them from spilling dirt about the exploits of their high-profile clients. However, as cops, if they witness any illegal behavior, they are required to report it.
Chargers center Cory Withrow, who used the service for the first time last month to go to a concert by country-Western singer Kenny Chesney, said he felt comfortable knowing an officer was their escort for the night.
Withrow and his wife, along with another couple, rode in the back of his own Lincoln Navigator and did not have to worry about driving after having a beer or two.
“I don't want to take a chance,” said Withrow, 33. “There's too much at stake – my kids and reputation.
“The player-conduct policy has tightened up a lot. It's not worth risking your career over something like that.”Molly Weasley makes Chuck Norris eat his vegetables.
Do not puff, shade, skew, tailor, firm up, stretch, massage,
or otherwise distort statements of fact.FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley
06-29-08, 03:35 AM #2
Sweet idea.Pleasing nobody, one person at a time.
That which does not kill me, better start fucking running.
If I lived every day like it was my last, the body count would be staggering.
I intend to go in harm's way. -John Paul Jones
Hunt the wolf, and bring light to the dark places that others fear to go. LT COL Dave Grossman
06-29-08, 03:37 AM #3
Neat Idea.. I wonder what other things they see while driving these folks around
We dallied under
Vine maples and sapling alders
Searched for lady slippers
Found blackberry riots and
An old skid road
Brought ghost ferns and
Hollows filled with
While waves wrapped
Intricate lacings of weeds
'Round mule spinners
His cyanotic eyes
Were hard enough to make
The sun turn tail and
Tender enough to attract me
To his world of illusion
06-29-08, 12:40 PM #4GrasshopperVerified LEO
- Join Date
- Rep Power
Just for kicks, I checked the web site and filled out their application. I left out a lot of information because I thought they were a little personal without me knowing who they were. When I submitted the application, a screen popped up that said "Thank you for joining Safe Ride Solutions. Your membership card will be mailed to you with in three business days".
Gee. Not sure if I trust that much.And Shepards we shall be,
for thee, My Lord, for thee,
Power hath descended forth from Thy hand,
That our feet may swiftly carry out Thy Command.
So we shall flow a river forth to Thee
And teeming with souls will it ever be.
In Nomine Patris, Et Filli, Et Spiritus Sancti.
06-29-08, 12:59 PM #5
I think there was an invention like this some time ago...it was called a taxi--
"And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon..."
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