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Recruits get hands-on DUI training with tipsy volunteers

April 8, 2018

In this March 2018 photo, volunteer Paul Foelber loses his balance as Officer 1st Class Sean Geiser stands watch in case he falls during a sobriety test performed by recruits during a DUI enforcement training session in Frederick, Md. Recruits get hands-on DUI enforcement training thanks to tipsy volunteers. (Graham Cullen/The Frederick News-Post via AP)

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Recruit Jacob Demers struggled to keep a straight face as the woman in front of him broke into another fit of laughter Wednesday afternoon at the Frederick police training center.

“Do you see it?” Frederick Police Officer 1st Class Stephanie Sparks asked Demers as the woman composed herself and locked her eyes back on a pen Demers was holding about a foot from her face as part of a field sobriety test.

“Yes. It’s not as prominent in this eye, but I definitely saw it jump,” Demers said.

Demers and Sparks were referring to the involuntary, left-to-right jerking movements a person’s eyes make that become more exaggerated when they have been drinking.

Before the tests, Sgt. Matt Carrado, one of the lead instructors for the academy’s 40-hour drunken driving enforcement session, explained the significance of what officers call “horizontal gaze nystagmus.”

“When you’ve consumed alcohol, your eyes get very slow, just like your reaction time when you’re driving gets slow, so with nystagmus, your eye is going to bounce back and forth, back and forth,” Carrado said.

During the classroom portion of the week, the recruits learned about the three indicators or “clues” to look for during the eye test. The clues include the inability of a person’s eyes to move smoothly back and forth, nystagmus after about 45 degrees and sustained eye jerking in a person’s peripheral vision, Carrado said.

“If I see four of those six clues — three clues in two eyes, so we have six total clues — there’s an 88 percent chance that the person is over a .10,” the sergeant said. “It’s just a scientific fact.”

Field sobriety tests also include the walk-and-turn test and a balance test complete with their own sets of clues to help officers determine whether a person is over the state’s legal limit for driving of .08 blood alcohol concentration, but the eyes are usually the first and best indicators, Carrado said.

Because nystagmus is involuntary and an impaired person’s movements are difficult to fake, the department invites small groups of volunteers — teachers, friends of the instructors and even a few employees of the state’s attorney’s office — to spend an afternoon drinking at the academy.

Several bottles of bourbon and vodka lined a counter in the training center’s largest classroom, where the seven volunteers took turns taking breath tests administered by Carrado and fellow instructor Sgt. Andrew Alcorn. By the time the recruits came in, six of the seven volunteers were at or above the legal limit for driving.

“We actually have one of our ‘drinkers’ who hasn’t been drinking at all, who is our dummy, so we want them to see, are they seeing things that aren’t there. ... The first thing I tell them on day one is the two biggest mistakes you can make in DUI enforcement is arresting a sober person and letting a drunk driver go,” Carrado said.

Back in the large classroom, recruits Peter McAdams and Tyler Branche gave Carrado their initial impression after having put one of the volunteers, Francesca Foelber, through the three tests.

“I wouldn’t arrest her, but I’d probably have her call to get a ride home,” McAdams said, explaining that he thought Foelber was likely at or just under the legal limit.

Carrado smiled as he and Foelber exchanged a quick glance. Foelber’s husband, Paul, was at a .12 BAC as he stumbled through the walk-and-turn test for a different group of recruits across the room, but Francesca was the sober volunteer in the group.

A few feet away, Demers was just finishing up his assessment. In addition to the nystagmus in her eyes, the woman Demers was evaluating had also tripped twice during the walk-and-turn and then again when Demers asked her to balance on one foot.

Before ending the test, Demers had one final set of instructions for the woman.

“OK, I’m going to need you to turn around and put your hands behind your back,” Demers said. “You’re under arrest.”

Demers was a bit closer in his final estimation, telling Sparks he thought the woman was likely around a .13 BAC. According to the woman’s last breath test, she was at about a .11 when the recruits began their tests.

“It’s really good training because it definitely seems like a perishable skill, where if we’re not constantly out enforcing DUIs, then we could theoretically lose that ability,” Demers said after the first round of tests. “I mean, you can actually see the side effects of drinking.”

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Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, http://www.fredericknewspost.com

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