BRPD: Impaired driver training for ongoing police academy
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's all the makings of a bar with an ice chest full of beer and a shelf with hard liquor and mixers, but it's not even 11 a.m., and those drinking are doing so at a police station getting served drinks by police officers.
The Baton Rouge Police Department's DWI Task Force gets volunteers to drink under their supervision, but first, officers have to make sure all the participants have not had any alcohol prior to taking on the training. So a nurse is on hand to take their blood pressure, then they take the breathalyzer test to make sure they're .000. If so, the participants are cleared.
The 15 volunteers need to purposely get drunk to help out BRPD's ongoing police academy of 23 cadets.
In week 16, they learned the signs to look for in drunk drivers. However, because it's not a subject matter than can be learned through a book, the trainees will get real people to test.
"Louisiana is a good time state. Everybody is drinking all the time. I don't know any event that does not have alcohol involved in it in the Baton Rouge area so we do have an alcohol problem to an extent," said BRPD's DWI Task Force Commander Sgt. Byron Fontenot.
One at a time, 15 men and women got one drink at a time, sometimes shots, while officers watched over their blood alcohol content. Sgt. Fontenot said the goal is to get those 15 people varying between just above the legal limit of .08 to up to twice that.
"Sooner or later, every officer in here is going to run into a DWI, whether it be a crash or a traffic stop," said Sgt. Fontenot.
Central resident Bo Sheridan, one of the volunteers, had five drinks of vodka with lemonade, and her BAC was barely over the legal limit of .084.
"I am feeling pretty awesome right now like I could get a tattoo or something pierced," said Sheridan.
Another volunteer, Frankie Rusciano, said he had up to nine Red Bull and vodkas along with two shots. His BAC was nearly twice the legal limit at .150.
"In my mind, everything seems pretty normal, but I know that my judgment is fully impaired. What I'm seeing is probably not fully there. If I see one stop sign, there might have actually been three," said Rusciano.
Cpl. Justin Becnel said they look for six signs when looking to see if people are under the influence of alcohol, three in each eye to determine the level of intoxication. He said the more someone has had to drink, the more a person's eyes jerk instead of smoothly following a pen officers use.
"We're training our police officers in the academy to be able to recognize these signs of impairment," said Cpl. Becnel.
When an officer pulls over a suspected drunk driver, there are several things they are looking for. Some are harder to spot than others.
"From the first contact on, you look at their eyes. You listen to their speech, their balance, their swaying in their balance or side-to-side, and then you speak with them and most will tell you they've been drinking," said Sgt. Fontenot.
For most of these 23 cadet, it was their first time trying to figure out if someone is drunk or not.
Trainee Blaine Burns started with a volunteer who was well over the legal limit at .275 and immediately said the volunteer failed the test.
"He couldn't stand still, kept on wobbling, and swaying back and forth," said Burns.
But because his BAC was so high, he was easier to detect. Volunteers like Sheridan and Rusciano would be more difficult.
"I would say she's not impaired and was able to drive," said trainee Blake Purcell regarding Sheridan.
Purcell admitted he needed to work on his training. He said he's glad they're learning in class instead of on the streets for the first time.
However, trainee Alex Bell would have stopped her, saying Sheridan was above the legal limit.
Trainee Donald Steele said Rusciano was under the influence and he would not let him drive home for the safety of others. But if he had to guess his BAC, he said .06 when Rusciano was .150, which is twice the legal limit.
That is why Sgt. Fontenot said they do this training for the cadets in every academy with the hope that when the police officers graduate the academy and are patrolling the streets, they can get drunk drivers off the road before they hurt themselves or claim any lives.
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