New program helps officers with sobriety testing
DUBUQUE (AP) — More than a dozen law enforcement officials struggled to maintain their focus on the instructor as the revelers in the hallway grew more boisterous.
Though the doors were closed, shouts and laughter filled the classroom at the Dubuque Emergency Responder Training Center. Moments earlier, a boozy rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” had echoed through the building.
“Obviously, some people have been drinking,” said Officer Ryan Scherrman, a drug recognition expert and trainer leading the class.
Though the atmosphere was light and the laughs plentiful, the recent training session was no joke. Advanced Roadside Impairment Driving Enforcement certification is meant to ensure officers are well-equipped to take inebriated drivers off the road.
The Telegraph Herald reports that the “wet lab” is a major component of the training, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-funded program offered to law enforcement agencies at no cost. Volunteers are “dosed” with alcohol and then used as guinea pigs by officers practicing field sobriety evaluation techniques.
Wet lab volunteers primarily were dosed with beer, according to Scherrman. Their consumption was monitored for safety and to ensure each participant had a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 to 0.12 percent.
Having real interactions with inebriated people promotes a practical understanding that can’t be achieved in a traditional educational setting, Scherrman said.
“When you sit in a classroom, you don’t get the effect,” he said. “With training like this, this is live, hands-on training. ... It’s completely different when you’re actually administering the test.”
The dosed volunteers, or “drinkers,” are friends and colleagues of law enforcement officials, according to Scherrman.
One such volunteer, Megan McKenna, alleged she was “winning” the field sobriety testing. Using the alias “Sparky,” she tried walking a straight line and attempted to follow the testing officer’s moving finger with her eyes while keeping her head stationary.
“What kind of animal should I replicate?” she said after being asked to raise one foot and start counting slowly.
“You’re going to be a human,” said Jeremy Kettmann, an officer with Dubuque County Conservation. “OK?”
Lisa Lugrain has worked dispatch at the Dubuque Law Enforcement Center for eight years. She also was asked to help with the ARIDE training.
Lugrain said it was enlightening to participate in an interaction with law enforcement from an unfamiliar perspective.
“It’s pretty interesting,” she said. “It’s fun to kind of see how things work.”
Staring down officers conducting field sobriety testing was a little challenging.
“It is intimidating,” Lugrain said.
ARIDE training also teaches participants to recognize the symptoms of all kinds of intoxicants, not just alcohol, according to Scherrman.
“What we do is test for impairment,” he said. “Part of this training is recognizing when there may be a drug involved.”
For example, “if a person has a blood-alcohol level of less than 0.8 (percent) but is showing impairment,” that person might have used illegal drugs, Scherrman said.
Dyersville police officer Austin Zuercher has been in law enforcement for four years. In his seven months in Dubuque County, he has worked his share of night shifts.
The night shift means dealing with quite a few intoxicated drivers, he said.
“I’ve had a couple of drugged cases, so this is going to be able to help me recognize those,” he said.
Zuercher noted that all graduates of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy are taught to recognize impaired drivers. The in-depth training helps reinforce and refine techniques officers might already know, he said.
“Some of it’s kind of review, but getting to do it makes it easier to understand, easier to learn,” he said.