RICHMOND -- About three years ago, the Richmond Police Department decided it needed to do more to keep impaired drivers off the road.

So it tapped Phil Sanchez, a traffic officer with more than a decade's experience, to do just that. Sanchez was asked to create an enforcement program that not only focused on arrests, but also on prevention and education.

He immediately called the Bay Area chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and, years later, the union has proved to be a powerful one. Richmond has become a beacon of DUI enforcement, according to MADD's Silas Miers, a law enforcement program specialist for the organization, and it hasn't gone unnoticed.

MADD gave Sanchez its Century Award and also honored Richmond police Officer Ben Mendler at its annual luncheon Thursday to recognize Contra Costa County law enforcement involved in the county's "Avoid the 25" anti-driving under the influence campaign.

In all, 63 officers from 18 agencies in Contra Costa County were recognized.

But Sanchez's work stood out, and not just because of the 101 DUI arrests he made in 2012.

He also was a driving force behind the establishment of programs that force drunken driving convicts to hear the stories of victims and, after doing so, sign a waiver that increase the chances that another charge against the same DUI offender may be more serious than the first.

In so doing, he has earned MADD's Century Award, signifying he's made more than 100 DUI arrests, the past three years.

"It's always nice to be recognized for what you do," Sanchez said before Thursday morning's banquet, which was held at the Concord Hilton. "But that's not the primary reason you do it. We're all just trying to make a positive difference in our communities."

Sanchez said he received a unique opportunity to do so. He said he was handed the resources he needed and essentially told to "go to it," with any and all ideas. He worked with MADD and lawmakers to help add a legal requirement that anyone convicted of a DUI offense in Contra Costa County must attend a victim impact panel meeting. The meetings give those guilty of DUI offenses the chance to hear the stories of those injured and otherwise affected.

"That is one of the more impactful things we've done," Sanchez said. "I am approached after those meetings by people who see how far reaching these crimes are and how many lives are affected. They'll say, 'I had no idea.'"

The knowledge they gain also provides additional motivation to never drive under the influence again. Each DUI offender signs out after receiving the Watson Advisement, which holds that if someone drives drunk and kills someone after racking up one prior DUI charge, they can be charged with murder. It's a stipulation that makes it easier to charge repeat offenders with the more serious second-degree murder if the unthinkable happens.

"Education and getting the word out is one of the most effective avenues we have to fight against DUIs," Miers said. "The education that the offenders are getting from hearing from the victims is very powerful."

Mendler, a Berkeley native who is in his seventh year with the Richmond PD, became part of Sanchez's team in January 2012, and made 139 DUI-related arrests. He also pointed to the knowledge gained by DUI offenders as an effective weapon against the problem.

"A lot of times, in a violent community like Richmond, you'll find that, for lack of better words, those who get caught up in the violence are generally not good people," he said. "But with DUIs, when a person is injured or when they die, almost always you find that the victim was a real good person, and so is the suspect. So you arm people who are generally good people with knowledge, and most of them won't make the same mistake again. You open a few people's eyes, and it feels very gratifying."

Rick Hurd covers crime. Contact him at 510-262-2728 and follow him at Twitter.com/3rdERH.