The Delaware Office of Highway Safety recently recognized law-enforcement officers from across the state for their DUI enforcement efforts.
“We awarded five officers from across the state for the top DUI leadership and enforcement award,” said Jana Simpler, director of the Delaware Office of Highway Safety. “DUIs — there’s more involved than just your typical speeding arrest or red-light violation. There’s a lot to it. There’s a lot you need to know regarding the law in order to effect an arrest that’s going to hold up in court.”
Ocean View Police Department Sgt. Sidney Ballentine one of those top five winners.
“Sgt. Ballentine has been involved in DUI enforcement for many, many years. He’s been very active in that he’s participated in training opportunities to gain more knowledge about impaired driving. According to the chief, he is a mentor for other officers within the department related to DUIs.”
Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin nominated Ballentine for the award.
In 2016 alone, Ballentine logged 21 DUI arrests, and in the last five years, he has logged 132 DUI arrests.
“That’s pretty impressive, when you consider Ocean View is 2 square miles with no real bar in town,” said McLaughlin. “In addition to his personal commitment to combatting drunk drivers, Sgt. Ballentine always goes out of his way to provide roadside assistance to officers investigating DUI incidents.”
The award ceremony, during which all five officers were recognized, was held on March 24 at 9 a.m. at Dover Downs Conference Center. Ballentine was recognized for his efforts alongside those of Ptlm. Anthony Smith of the Dover Police Department, Ptlm. Nicholas Disciullo of the Milton Police Department, TFC Mark Ivey of Delaware State Police Troop 1 and TFC Christopher Garcia of Delaware State Police Troop 4.
“One of the top — if not the main partner that our office coordinates with in order to improve highway safety across the state — is law-enforcement agencies. We cannot do what we do without them. We provide overtime funding for the purposes of improving highway safety,” said Simpler.
“Our agencies are always very active,” she said. “OHS is involved in changing driver behavior. I’ll often caution folks to remember that we’re not DelDOT. They’re changing driver behavior from the construction side of highway safety. We’re changing driver behavior from the behavioral side — trying to reduce speeds, getting people to be belted, increase the correct and consistent use of car seats, and certainly reduce the incidents of impaired driving.
“We rely a lot on our law-enforcement partners to help us do that. So, it’s important to us, as a result of their partnership, to say, ‘Thank you.’ We’re pleased to continue to support them in their training, equipment and enforcement needs. This was our opportunity to say, ‘Thank you’ for all of their hard work.”
Ballentine joined the OVPD in 2008, after retiring as an E-7 platoon sergeant in the U.S. Army.
“Contrary to popular belief, most of us who retire from the military can’t survive on our retirement. So, I made a natural transition from being a military policeman, having a law-enforcement background there, to wanting to pursue being a police officer,” said Ballentine.
He joined the Army when he was 18, in the 1980s, and was deployed a handful of times, including twice to Korea and once to Germany.He said his time serving as an MP helped prepare him for his future law-enforcement career in Ocean View.
“Being an MP, you do a lot of things. I worked on the road, and then I also went into the field a lot because we support infantry battalions, whether they be mechanized or non-mechanized.”
Originally from Watertown, N.Y., Ballentine and his family settled in Sussex County after his military retirement, with the “pie in the sky” hope that he’d get a job in a local police department.
“I went to every police department in Sussex County. I was competing with younger guys. A lot of them told me no because I’d run 15 seconds behind a 21-year-old, so they picked the 21-year-old. My chief took a chance on an old guy and said, ‘Sure, I’ll hire you. You just got to make it through the six-month police academy.’
Ballentine not only completed DSP academy, but was named the Core Values Recruit for 69th municipal recruit class.
“He showed himself to be a cut above the rest, even at the academy level,” said McLaughlin. “That award acknowledges the recruit that best demonstrated the core values of the Delaware State Police training academy. Those core values are honor, integrity, courage, loyalty, attitude, discipline and service. It’s probably one of the most prestigious awards that’s presented by the state police academy.”
In his law enforcement career, Ballentine has also received commendations from the superintendent of the Delaware State Police, lifesaving awards, Police Officer of the Year from the Delaware League of Local Government, the Joshua M. Freeman Valor Award and more.
“The list just goes on and on and on,” sand McLaughlin. “We’ve got multiple, multiple letters of thanks and praise from the community. His commitment to duty just continues every day of the week.”
As for his career in law enforcement, Ballentine said it’s been a fun ride.
“It changes every day. Even if you go to the same type of call — whether it be a domestic or a burglary or a traffic accident — they’re all different. There’s going to be a component that changes how you handle it,” he said.
Ballentine said he uses what he learned during his career in the Army to support his law-enforcement efforts.
“I’ve always said, ‘Without enforcement, there’s no compliance,’” he said, noting he took the saying from detention barracks in Fort Riley, Kan. “Their motto was ‘firm but fair.’ So when I started dealing with my soldiers, I said, ‘Without enforcement, there’s no compliance. If I didn’t tell you not to do something and there wasn’t a penalty, you’d still do it.’
“People know not to drive drunk in Ocean View. When I look at DUIs — the word gets out: Don’t drive drunk in Ocean View — and I make fewer and fewer arrests, I’ve done my job already. If I don’t have to go to a lot of vehicle rollovers with a drunk person walking away from it but the people he hit die — which is a story we hear all the time — I’ve done my job.”
Nationally, in 2016, an average of 28 people per day were killed in DUI accidents. In 2015, 10,265 people died in DUI crashes.
In his time as an officer, Ballentine said he’s had intoxicated persons do a number of things, including spit at and belittle him.
“It’s when people are at their worst.”
DUI is a nationwide problem, said both McLaughlin and Ballentine.
“When they say ‘impairment,’ they’re not just talking about the guy who had a few at the local bar. They’re talking the mom that took a sleep aid. They’re talking the guy who’s taking pain meds,” said Ballentine.
“We have an alcohol problem in the world. It’s probably one of the oldest, most-abused drugs out there, aside from caffeine. Alcohol is destructive, addictive. It’s a central nervous system depressant. It lowers inhibitions — it’s a drug. It has the same effect any other drug has on society. But it’s legal.”
Overall, Ballentine said police work is fun, whether it’s working on a burglary investigation or DUI case.
“It’s a marathon,” he added, noting that, at times, he may be pacing himself, but it’s only in preparation for the upcoming race. “I like my job. It’s just a lot of fun.”
McLaughlin praised Ballentine for his hard work and dedication to the department and to keeping Ocean View and its surrounding communities safe.
“Every year he’s been with us — he’s like a fine wine, he gets better with age. He just doesn’t stop. He gives 110 percent every day. He’s someone who is admired by other officers in the department. He’s definitely a true leader. He’s distinguished himself many other times throughout his career with outstanding criminal investigations.
“He’s one of those officers that’s just invaluable because he brings so much to the table. His experience, his attitude and his level of performance is everything you could hope for in a good officer.”