Bloomfield police officer recognized as top DUI enforcer in Essex County

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Officer Joseph Condito III has been recognized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Take note if you drink and drive, because the Bloomfield Police Department has a top DUI cop in its ranks. Officer Joseph Condito III has recently been recognized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for making the most Essex County DUI arrests in 2020. According to BPD Patrol Division Capt. Gary Peters, Condito had 22 DUI arrests in 2021, nine in 2020 and 17 in 2019.

“His work has been recognized by the county,” Peters said, “and I’m proud of that and of him for being part of my command.” 

At police headquarters on Friday, March 11, Condito, 30, a Bloomfield native, credited his success in getting impaired drivers off the road to his extensive training. He said a driver may be stopped for any number of reasons.

“It could be a standard traffic violation or speeding, swerving, delayed reactions or forgetting to put on your headlights,” he said.

If the vehicle is pulled over, the officer observes the driver’s behavior. Do they have bloodshot eyes? Slurred speech? Uncoordinated movements?

“And most importantly,” he said, “is there the smell of alcohol?”

One training program Condito underwent is the SFST School, shorthand for the standardized field sobriety test. Once an officer stops a driver, if the officer detects telltale signs of impaired driving, the officer can then conduct an SFST. Of course, sometimes a suspect DUI turns out to be a distracted driver on a cell phone, which is also illegal and dangerous. 

Condito said there are three parts to the SFST, performed in this order: the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk and turn, and the one-leg stand. Condito said nystagmus is the involuntary jerking of the eyes when someone is under the influence of alcohol or certain types of drugs.

“Essentially,” he said, “ when you suspect someone is impaired, you conduct a series of field sobriety tests. You have to do that for every suspicion of DUI, in most cases.”

But there are exceptions: The driver may be too impaired to be tested or may have been in an accident. 

“You’re looking for a certain amount of clues when you conduct a field sobriety test,” he said.

Regarding the first test, the horizontal gaze nystagmus, Condito said an officer looks for nystagmus at maximum deviation. 

“When your eyes look all the way to the side,” he explained, “they begin to involuntary jerk or shake when you’re impaired with alcohol and certain drugs. Certain drugs can tell you (they are present) almost immediately by exaggerated indicators.” 

For the walk and turn, the driver is asked to take nine steps forward, in a straight line, turn and take nine steps back. Condito said sometimes a suspect will take well over nine steps.

For the one-leg stand, the driver is asked to keep their arms at their sides; to lift one leg 6 inches from the ground; and count “1,001, 1,002, 1,003,” and so on, until asked to stop. Condito said the person is asked to stop after 30 seconds. But he emphasized that an officer takes into consideration the driver’s age, weight and possible injuries.

“After we complete an SFST, a determination is made as to whether or not that person can operate a vehicle safely,” he said.

Condito said once the driver is placed under arrest, for the officer to build a legal case, the passenger compartment of the vehicle can be searched but not the trunk. The vehicle is towed and impounded, and the driver is brought to BPD headquarters, where an Alco-Screen test is administered.

“When you arrest someone, they blow into the breathalyzer,” said Condito, who has been trained to conduct this test. The DUI threshold in NJ is a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent, but Condito pointed out that someone under 0.08 percent can still be charged if the arresting officer thinks they are impaired enough to affect driving ability.

If charged, once the paperwork is done, the person arrested is given a court summons and the opportunity to call someone to pick them up.

“But whoever does pick them up has to fill out a form that says they’re responsible for the person and will not allow them to drive for 12 hours,” Condito said.

Condito said that, after being arrested, people begin to realize they have made a mistake.

“I talk to them and explain the process and treat them with respect,” he said. “I take pride in that. And I get a lot of handshakes.”