North Augusta Public Safety Officer Jason Pearce was recognized this month by the South Carolina Department of Public Safe-ty at the seventh annual DUI Enforcement and 2011 Law Enforcement DUI Challenge ceremony in Columbia.
For the second consecutive year, Pearce was named Officer of the Year in the category for agencies with 51-100 officers for his work in enforcing the state’s driving under the influence laws, removing impaired drivers from the road ways, educating the community about traffic laws and training other officers.
“It’s very flattering being recognized for something you love doing. I don’t look at myself as anyone special or different,” said the North Augusta resident. “We have such great officers in this department. Our traffic division is second to none. I love the guys I work with. They are the reasons I get these awards because they go out and because they, and the citizens, have such good eyes, I can come out and do my job.”
North Augusta Public Safety also won one of 10 digital in-car video systems to use in DUI enforcement efforts in a drawing at the ceremony.
Pearce has been with North Augusta Public Safety for 91/2 years. He is one of the department’s two Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic officers. Last year, he made 73 DUI arrests and had similar numbers for 2010.
As a H.E.A.T. officer, he looks for drivers who appear to be driving aggressively or may be impaired and responds when other officers pull over people for aggressive or impaired driving.
A misperception many people have is that DUI is only alcohol-related, Pearce said.
“Not everybody who is impaired is drunk, but everybody who is drunk is impaired,” he said. “There’s such a problem, not just in North Augusta but in the country, with people taking medications or using illicit drugs and driving ....”
Pearce is an instructor with the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy and teaches officers to do field-sobriety tests. He is also a Drug Recognition Expert and trains other officers.
Pearce speaks with community and church groups and participates in North Augusta High School’s Real Life 101 class about twice a year as a guest speaker.
Speaking with groups, especially teens, is something he enjoys, he said.
“A lot of times they are shocked that we know as much as we do because some people tend to look at police officers as stiff people who are older and don’t know what it’s like be to be a teenager,” he said. “But we do know what it’s like and we let them know that.”
About 18 years ago, Pearce decided to go into law enforcement. He served six years in the Marine Reserves.
“There’s a lot of similarity between what Marines do and what you do in law enforcement so it was a natural (decision),” he said.
He joined the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office in Augusta, and became a motorcycle policeman, he said.
“Growing up, I always loved motorcycles. I loved Evel Knievel. I loved anything dealing with motorcycles so that was what I wanted to do, be a motorcycle policeman,” he said.
When when he found out there was an opening with North Augusta Public Safety, he jumped at the opportunity to work in his hometown.
“I love it here,” he said. “I grew up here, and even when I lived over in Georgia while I was working over there, North Augusta was always home.”
When the H.E.A.T. grant came up a few years ago, he was interested in working with the program.
An experience he had while he was an officer with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office made him want to help curb aggressive traffic and remove impaired drivers from the roadways.
A woman’s daughter had been killed in an accident in Atlanta involving a drunk driver and he had to notify the family of the death.
“That tore me up,” he said. “It really galvanized what I wanted to do, especially with traffic enforcement. I’ve been to many car crashes over the years and many of them were preventable. This is something I’m extremely passionate about.”
The job also requires a lot of commitment.
“I tell people I’m open 24/7. My cell phone is always on,” he said.
Despite the commitment, with his family’s support and his passion for what he does, he’s never questioned if he chose the right profession, he said.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I have the best family in the world. I couldn’t do any of this without them.”
Pearce is a 1988 graduate of North Augusta High School. His family includes his wife, Kelly, and children Justin, 21, Nicole, 19 and Emily, 9.