This year, MADD Florida wanted to illustrate the significance of our state-wide recognition program by highlighting top honorees from the recognition ceremony in 2018.

In this interview, we feature Lieutenant Thomas VanTrees , Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Hillsborough/Pinellas. FWC was nominated for Outstanding Dedication to BUI Enforcement and Prevention. The nomination reads:

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission would like to nominate a team of exceptional Officers in the Hillsborough/Pinellas County Patrol area for their excellence in proactive BUI enforcement, training, and mentorship. Officers Randall Bibler, James Pettifer, and Officer Specialist Alex Martinez are all assigned to the Tampa Bay area where they patrol the waters daily looking for impaired boat operators.

In 2017, these three Officers made 14 BUI arrests, taking impaired operators off the water and ensuring safe waterways for the citizens of Florida to work and recreate on. They even made an additional five arrests for DUI’s. Even more impressive than all of their BUI arrests, is the fact that as Field Training Officers their trainees made seven BUI arrests and one DUI arrest while on the Agency’s Field Training program. These officers are dedicated to not only taking impaired operators off of our waterways and roadways themselves, but training the next generation of officers to do the same. Those trainees, now out on their own, have gone on to make numerous BUI arrests.

Officers Bibler, Pettifer, and Martinez are all certified breath tech operators, streamlining the logistics process of making quality BUI arrests that lead to convictions. Officer Bibler is a certified NASBLA Boating Under the Influence Instructor and Officer Martinez is certified in Advanced Roadside Impairment Detection. Officer Pettifer received our region’s Boating Officer of the Year Award for his excellence in boating safety enforcement, to include BUI enforcement.

These three Officers not only make their own arrests and teach new trainees, but are leaders when it comes to their peers. They mentor other officers, both new and old, on every aspect of BUI enforcement, sharing their passion for saving the life’s of Florida residents by taking impaired operators off the water. In 2017 they lead and participated in numerous special enforcement details that targeted BUI operators in different parts of Tampa Bay. Their efforts and planning were so successful that the area’s Captain implemented it as a blueprint to follow for all officers in her area of operation to follow when planning BUI details.

These three extraordinary Officers are to be commended for their dedication and passion to taking impaired operators off of our waterways and roads. They truly embody everything that is good in our FWC Officers and lead the way in saving lives on a daily basis!

1. What was the significance/meaning of receiving Top Honoree at the 2018 MADD Florida Recognition Ceremony? The significance was huge. Officers Bibler, Pettifer and Martinez were taken aback when our FWC squad received top honors! Out of all the agencies as well as FWC teams, MADD chose FWC Pinellas/Hillsborough team for the award. It was awesome to have MADD recognize what we do every day to saves lives.

2. Why did you take the time to nominate your squad for the honors? It is my job as a supervisor to recognize the hard work of my officers.  I gave my squad a challenge to improve their BUI numbers enforcement.  Not only did they improve their personal numbers arrests; but, they also more than doubled their BUI’s this year for a total of 39 BUI’s. By removing these intoxicated boaters from the water, we potentially saved numerous lives as alcohol one of the leading contributing factors to serious boating accidents.  By motivating these three officers, we really got the ball rolling on enforcement.  They taught their fellow officers about BUI’s and got them motivated to do BUI enforcement.

BUI’s are extremely hard to do.  They are logistically challenging because there is nowhere to ‘pull over’ a boat, and there always has to be someone in control of the FWC boat you can’t just pull over to a parking lot or “safe area” as you would on the road. Your location is fluid and changing with where the tide takes you, and if you are by yourself you are controlling your patrol boat, suspects boat, AND conducting field sobriety exercises.  However, we know that if we do not enforce BUI’s that the driver of the boat will then get in their car with their boat in tow and be dangerous on our roads.

3. How did it feel when you found out you received top honoree in your nominated category? Funny story – This is the first time that I’ve submitted a nomination. I thought that when I didn’t get a phone call or an email that we didn’t get the award.  I didn’t realize that everyone who got nominated could attend so my team and I were not there.  However, when I got a call from Captain Mravic Maza that my squad received top honors, we were over the moon excited!  It was an immense sense of pride.  We were ecstatic that our hard work paid off!  We were so excited to be the top team in Florida
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4. If you could do one thing, leave one mark in the community, what would it be? At FWC, we protect one of our community’s most beautiful resources: the woods, water, and animals. We ensure that people adhere to hunting and fishing laws as well as help when wildlife threaten to hurt the public.  However, probably the single-most impactful thing we do is to enforce BUI’s.  We believe it is a huge responsibility, and it’s our privilege to not only enforce BUI’s but also to teach and motivate others to do BUI’s since this has saved unknown amount of lives.

5. Will you be attending this year’s ceremony? I hope so!

6. Fun Fact Question: What is your favorite thing to do outside of work? I love being outdoors.  One of my favorite activities is bicycling with my wife.