MORGAN HILL -- In his last year as a full-time patrol cop in Morgan Hill, Steve Pennington decided to wage a one-man campaign against drunken driving. So he gave up day shifts to work night and swing shifts exclusively, a prime time to go after drunken drivers.

His dedication paid off.

Pennington arrested 95 people on suspicion of driving under the influence in 2012, the most of any officer in Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties. He was recognized last week during a banquet sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for his efforts as the top DUI arresting officer in those three counties.

Pennington said he became inspired to go after DUI suspects after hearing stories of people whose loved ones were killed by drunken drivers. One story that stayed with him throughout his career was that of an off-duty San Francisco cop whose wife was killed by a drunken driver. The officer and his wife were driving home when he stopped to help someone on the roadway. As the officer helped the stranded motorist, a drunken driver plowed into the cop's car, killing his wife.

"When you hear those things, it had a special thing in my heart," Pennington said. "I needed to go out and do what I could to stop it."

Pennington, 55, who retired Dec. 30, was responsible for nearly 43 percent of the 222 DUI arrests made by Morgan Hill police in 2012.

"In his 14 years, preventing DUI collisions has been his passion," Morgan Hill Police Chief David Swing said. "He has developed a real sense and ability to assess people who are impaired."

When Pennington was not responding to calls while on patrol, he was looking for drivers displaying the signs of being under the influence. He looked for vehicles that drove too fast or too slow or had trouble staying between their lines. Drivers stopping too close or too far from a stop sign were often indicators.

"If I saw a car and I didn't have a radio call, I would get behind and follow it," Pennington said. "If there was nothing unusual, I would tail off and go look for another one."

Although Pennington has retired, his days hunting down drunken drivers aren't over. Pennington plans on staying on as a reserve officer and work traffic enforcement around schools or DUI enforcement.

The banquet was held in partnership between MADD and the California Office of Traffic Safety, which coordinates the annual Avoid the 13 campaigns. This week MADD will recognize four officers from Alameda and Contra Costa counties who each made more than 100 DUI arrests last year, according to Jody Iorns, executive director of MADD's Bay Area affiliate.

One law enforcement officer in Los Angeles County area made 444 DUI arrests in 2011, Iorns said.

"They have a sixth sense, some of these" officers, Iorns said. "It's a gift, because they're saving lives every time they get a drunk driver off the road."

Contact Mark Gomez at 408-920-5869. Follow him on Twitter @MarkMgomez.