Despite laughs in the air and the maybe a faint smell of alcohol if you got close enough to the right person, several volunteers proved to be valuable resources in the fight to train law enforcement to identify impaired driving.
On Thursday, the Starkville Police Department hosted its Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) course at the Hilton Garden Inn, which was aimed at teaching young and new officers the basics of identifying someone under the influence of alcohol.
While SPD hosted the course, the agency also saw adjunct teachers from the West Point Police Department, the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office, the Oxford Police Department and the Mississippi Attorney General’s office.
A group of 10 volunteers were allowed to drink varying amounts of alcohol prior to taking the tests to provide a wide sample size for the officers being tested, and different techniques were employed to test the different levels of intoxication.
For instance, each participant would have to walk along a duct tape line, taking nine steps, before pivoting and taking another nine steps. This was typically followed by a test consisting of the participant standing on one foot and count by one-thousands.
“You have different kinds of learning, some have to see it, some have to see it on paper or write it or listen to it, but the best training is to put them in a realistic environment,” said David Rosenbaum of the Oxford Police Department, who helped oversee the day of classes.
“There’s only so much you can learn from watching a video,” he added. “To put it in a realistic situation is a much more accurate training and better prepares them for what they will see in reality.”
The Mississippi Department of Transportation reported that in 2016, 18 percent of total traffic deaths were the result of drunk driving, with more than 10,000 people killed nationally each year.
The staggering statistics are also compounded with another number that Rosenbaum emphasized — that officers may only arrest 1 out of every 100 impaired drivers, which provides the incentive for police to be sharp when it comes to knowing the signs.
“The legal limit in Mississippi is .08 (Blood Alcohol Level), but that’s not what each individual would be impaired on,” Rosenbaum said, emphasizing the difference in how each person should be handled. “There are so many different things that go into it. Things like, how much did you eat today? We don’t have the numbers (of officers) on the street to be successful, and a good number of people we’re coming face to face with and letting them go. Anyone can look at someone that’s .15 and say they need to go to jail, but it’s the range of .08 and .11 that’s hard to detect.”
Nicole Ungaro, of Cartersville, Tennessee, volunteered for the course and said it helped to both dispel some preconceived notions while also having a good time with several of her friends.
“I’ve learned a lot and it’s been fun,” she said. “I definitely felt like I could beat these officers, but I’ve learned so much and it’s been great. “
Hayden Park, an accounting major from Corinth, found out about the class through a friend and thought it would be a fun way to spend the day.
“I was talking to a friend and somehow he heard about it and this sounds like something interesting and I wondered what the instructions will be like,” he said. “How will it work? It’s helping train new officers while having a lot of fun, you can’t go wrong.”