Guest Author – July 2021

Larry Coggins

State Executive Director

MADD Florida State Office

My relationship with MADD started in the early morning hours shortly after midnight on a hot Central Florida summer night in the early nineties. I was a rookie State Troop working a serious crash where a couple had been killed after being hit head on by an impaired driver. I cleared the scene and headed to the address on the victim’s driver license, not really sure who would be there as it was obvious to me that this couple was married. It dawned on me as I pulled into their driveway and I could see little faces looking through the drapes, that their children were waiting for them to return home, and I was there to give them the worst news they would ever hear. I was looking at three orphans due to an impaired driver. A MADD volunteer from the local chapter came to my rescue, and the aid of these children and their grandparents who were now their legal guardians. More on this later ….

MADD has always recognized that law enforcement is the foundation to our Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving. They are the first line of defense, boots on the ground, who give of their time, talents, and in some cases, their life to intercept impaired drivers. The role of a DUI unit comes with unruly people, prisoners who lose control of their faculties in the back of the patrol car, paperwork and reports that are as lengthy as a murder case, depositions on your day off, court appearances after you have worked a twelve-hour shift, and a spouse and kids at home wondering when mom or dad will be back. This cycle is repeated over and over and over and its fueled by the passion and dedication of intercepting an impaired driver before the crash occurs. Anyone can clean up a crash scene, but the real work is preventing it from happening to begin with.

MADD has a long practice, in our short forty-one years of existence, of recognizing our law enforcement heroes. Awards, dinners, and participation at DUI Checkpoints and Saturation details continue to this day, but now our recognition and support includes specialized trainings at no burden to the taxpayers here in Florida and public support that is stronger today than ever. It’s important for the officer on the street to know that when the court of public opinion is condemning them for their DUI enforcement, seen by some communities as a waste of resources, that our National brand is there to support them and their agency. We have joined them in press conferences with a show of support in the aftermath of a DUI arrest of a local politician, have spoken publicly to a City Commission looking to eliminate the DUI unit as a cost savings measure, and have provided an interview to a local news station recognizing the right decision of a Deputy who arrested his Captain for DUI. These are all real-life scenarios that MADD has been a part of. Flexing the muscle of our National brand may come with some backlash from the naysayers, but its the right thing to do. If we won’t do it, then who will?

Having spent twenty-five years in law enforcement and now the State Executive Director of MADD Florida, I have seen firsthand where MADD and our law enforcement community work in concert teaching in the schools and partnering at local community events. I have received awards from MADD back when I worked the street and now I’m humbled to be a part of the team that is handing them out. I have attended MADD dinners with my squad, and I have spent the past 11 years as the Master of Ceremonies at the MADD FL LER. I currently sit on the Florida Police Chief Association’s Highway Safety Committee, the Florida Department of Transportation’s Impaired Driving Coalition, and I am one of three former law enforcement officers here at MADD, where our past expertise is used to help shape the future in enforcement techniques, legislative changes, and best practices overall in this arena. It’s been a great ride for me, and we are just getting started! We will continue to support, recognize, and train these heroes until impaired driving is a thing of the past.

I often think about those three kids. I know they are grown adults now, but the little faces of that early morning are still fresh in my mind. Do they hate me? Are they scared every time they see an FHP cruiser? Silly little thoughts I know, but thoughts that have haunted me throughout my life just the same. The impact that death notification had on me created the DUI enforcement passion in me and lead me to MADD.

Be kind to one another, and as I said after every traffic stop, “Have a safe day in the Sunshine State”

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