2011-03-18 / Community

Simi police officer honored by MADD for DUI arrests

By Carissa Marsh

KEEPING SIMI SAFE—Simi Valley Police Officer Michelle McCollum will be honored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for the number of DUI arrests she has made. 
IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers KEEPING SIMI SAFE—Simi Valley Police Officer Michelle McCollum will be honored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for the number of DUI arrests she has made. IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers When asked what she likes most about her job, Simi Valley Police Officer Michelle McCollum answers simply: “Arresting people.”

While she can’t help chuckling at her own reply, the more she talks the more evident it becomes how seriously she takes her sworn duty to protect and serve.

And her penchant for cuffing criminals isn’t a bad thing. In fact, McCollum’s desire to take wrongdoers off the streets—in particular, drunk drivers off the road—has earned her recognition by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for the second year in a row.

Of the Simi police department’s 287 DUI arrests last year, 30 were made by the 27-year-old Camarillo resident. Pretty impressive for someone who still considers herself a rookie: McCollum started with Simi PD three and a half years ago.

For her commitment to locating and arresting impaired motorists, MADD will present McCollum with a plaque and a “23152” pin to be worn on her uniform. The pin represents the California vehicle code section that addresses drivingunder the-influence violations.

To be eligible for the award and pin, an officer must have made at least 15 DUI arrests during a oneyear period.

The City Council will present McCollum with a certificate of commendation March 21. And, alongside other officers, sheriff’s deputies and CHP from across the state, McCollum will be honored at the 13th annual MADD California Statewide Law Enforcement & Community Recognition Event on March 26 in Sacramento.

She will be recognized again April 27 by the Ventura County Chapter of MADD.

McCollum said she’s proud of the job she does but that all the impending pomp and circumstance is “humbling.”

“I don’t go out and aim for the awards and recognition,” she said. “It’s nice to be recognized but I look at it as just (doing) my job, too.”

McCollum’s supervisors aren’t surprised she’s being honored, saying her best attribute is her proactive policing.

“The right place, right time certainly does help but you also have to be good with observation skills and self-initiating types of activities,” said Sgt. John Adamczyk. “She knows how to go out and find things, she doesn’t wait for it to find her. . . . She goes out looking for crimes in progress.”

Sgt. Craig Dungan agreed, saying McCollum seeks out and finds DUI and drug offenders on a weekly if not daily basis.

“She also has a high level of patience, which is necessary because sometimes drunk people are less than cooperative,” Dungan added with a laugh. “So she’s good at dealing with that.”

Working the graveyard shift from Saturday to Tuesday, McCollum has seen firsthand the damage driving under the influence can cause. She said a DUI can happen to anybody. Sometimes people walk away with a fine and a night in jail; other times lives are ended and families are left in ruins. All it takes is one bad decision.

That’s why, when a sarcastic drunk pulled over by McCollum grumbles something like, “You must feel real good about yourself,’ the officer snaps back in the affirmative.

“I do feel better. I can rest easy because God forbid it’s my family out there driving that you run into.”

‘It’s in the genes’

While arresting people is at the top of the list when it comes to what she likes most about her career, McCollum said it’s just one of the job’s many rewards.

“(I like) also being able to help people,” she said. “A lot of people just need someone to listen, so it’s nice to be there to lend an ear. A lot of times they don’t want advice . . . they just want to talk. Sometimes that’s all it takes.”

“Meeting people, that’s also fun,” McCollum added. “Seeing different personalities—it’s crazy to see how people tick and a lot of people tick differently.”

When it comes to the McCollums, however, they seem to “tick” uniformly: Law enforcement is a family affair.

McCollum’s family moved to Thousand Oaks when she was in fourth grade; she graduated from Newbury Park High School in 2001. Before that, she lived in Fontana, where her dad, James McCollum, was a reserve police officer for six years.

“I remember growing up and watching him and always being so proud of what he did,” McCollum said. “He’d help out with their K-9 unit and I remember going to the K-9 shows and demos, watching him and saying, ‘That’s my dad.’”

Still, she didn’t settle on being a cop right away. She’d considered being a firefighter or a veterinarian, but when she went to Indiana University to play soccer, she started down the path of becoming a lawyer, studying criminal justice.

But midway through her studies she decided she’d rather be outside catching the “dirtbags” than in a courtroom prosecuting them.

Her older brother, Zac, felt the same. He’s a deputy with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, working at the Moorpark substation. And their dad is still in law enforcement, working as a police service assistant for Simi PD.

“It’s in the genes,” Michelle McCollum said with a smile. “I think it’s in the blood.”

Catching drunk drivers is also something the sister and brother share. Zac was honored by MADD in 2009 and 2010 for detaining more intoxicated drivers than anyone at the Moorpark station and he was recognized again this year.

Michelle admitted they have a bit of a sibling rivalry going.

“The previous year . . . I think I had maybe five more arrests than him and that kind of fried him a little bit,” she said.

She acknowledged that having a graveyard shift for the past two years has given her the upper hand, but that fact doesn’t do much to console her brother.

“It still bugs him that his little sister beat him.”

Still, she said, her main motivation comes not from winning a competition or earning accolades but from saving lives.

“Starting this job, I never went out and said I’m going to go look for DUIs all the time,” she said, “but after being involved and seeing so many accidents and seeing lives destroyed by driving under the influence, it kind of makes it hit home a little bit. It’s definitely a problem and it’s something that needs to be stopped.”

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