Tipsy Volunteers Put Trainees To Test

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The Payson Police Department held a cocktail party last week for six volunteer drunk drivers.

The volunteers never got behind the wheel of a car, but they did have a few drinks to help the members of the Citizens Police Academy learn how to spot impaired drivers.

The Citizens Police Academy is a 12-week course designed to enhance the community's understanding of law enforcement. It is sponsored by the Payson Police Department and the Arizona Department of Public Service.

The lesson on this particular evening was how to spot impaired drivers and estimate their levels of intoxication.

Officer Dennis Buller of the Arizona Department of Public Safety gave those of us in the class step-by-step instructions on how to conduct field sobriety tests, including the horizontal gaze nystagmus an eye test.

While we spent two hours in class learning how to conduct the tests, the volunteers bellied up to the "bar" and drank under close officer observation.

By 9 p.m., we were ready to test our new skills on our volunteer drinkers.

We split up into six teams, and had to perform field sobriety tests on each of the six suspects. Not all of the suspects, however, were candidates for the drunk tank. One or two of them had only imbibed a bit, and we had to determine which of the six should be arrested.

I was assigned to a team with Lucinda Campbell, Herman Kwik and Jennifer Estess.

As the first suspect was brought into the interview room, we acted like nervous rookies. One by one we performed the six field sobriety tests and determined that the suspect should be released.

When the second suspect arrived, we were more comfortable with the tests. Lucinda, the overachiever of the group, stepped forward first and asked the suspect if she'd been drinking.

The suspect who had "shot" Lucinda in class the week before during a traffic stop simulation admitted that she had consumed a few margaritas.

First, we conducted an eye test in which we tracked the movement of the suspect's eyes as we passed a pen in front of her nose.

Then we subjected her to the walk-and-turn test and the one-leg stand. She was able to recite her ABCs and was able to touch her nose with both index fingers.

She also passed the finger-count test the best test, police say, to reveal inebriation. If the driver fails the finger-count test, in which she counts 1, 2, 3, 4, then 4, 3, 2, 1 while touching each finger in turn to her thumb she's likely intoxicated.

Although the suspect passed all the tests, Lucinda and I butted heads on the outcome. I wanted to release our cheerful gal; Lucinda wanted to shoot her, or, at the very least, haul her in for further interrogation.

At the conclusion of our session, we learned that two of our suspects were severely intoxicated and the rest should not have been allowed to drive.

"Even though we had some of our subjects under the presumptive legal limit, they were too impaired to operate a motor vehicle," Sgt. Rod Mamero of the Payson Police Department said. "Just because a person falls under the legal limit of 1.0 (blood alcohol concentration), doesn't mean they're not impaired.

"That's the point we're trying to drive home," Mamero said. "At 1.0 (blood alcohol concentration), the state automatically presumes you are impaired. But, alcohol affects everyone differently. Statistically, it's not the 1.0 or the 1.5 drivers that kill people, it's the .08, the .09 those people who assume that just because they're not over the limit, they're safe to drive."

Next week the class will learn Special Response Team techniques and will participate in a TASER demonstration.

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