Law enforcement from across the state traveled to Stillwater for training that helps police determine when someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The two-week session on expert drug recognition was held at the Stillwater Fraternal Order of Police Lodge for the first time.
Volunteers participated Tuesday by drinking actual alcoholic beverages, though instructor Jeremy Mashore said the training teaches the officers how to spot all intoxicants, not just alcohol.
“This training is an enhancer or advanced course for impaired driving enforcement mainly we are trying to teach our students to recognize drugs and impairing substances outside of alcohol,” Mashore said. “Right now we’re doing an alcohol wet lab which assists in determining someone’s alcohol scale.”
He said based on height, weight and gender everyone had different tolerances for alcohol in their system.
Mashore said they we’re also teaching the effects different kinds of drugs have on people, like pulse and blood pressure readings.
The volunteers, who were at least 21, began drinking at 4 p.m. and the testing started at 6 p.m. They completed various field sobriety tests. Some of those tests were: the horizontal gaze nystagmus (eye check) test, modified Romberg’s balance test, walk and turn test, one-leg stand test, and the finger-to-nose test.
Stillwater Police Sgt. J.D. Hansen said these are also called divided attention tests.
After the tests were completed, the officers read out their test results for each person and decided if they would make an arrest. The volunteers were shown what their blood alcohol content was before and after drinking. After a show of hands, only a couple people said they would feel OK if they drove home at this level of intoxication.
“Individuals will consume alcoholic beverages and they won’t realize that it is actually to the point where they are unsafe to drive,” Mashore said. “Quite frequently we will do these alcohol wet labs and an individual, we may get them at about a .05 – which is actually under the state’s legal limit of .08 – they will come up to us or we’ll go and ask, ‘How would you feel right now to operate a vehicle?’”
Mashore said often volunteers say they don’t feel safe to get behind the wheel, so he would show them their results. He said they weren’t aware they could feel this intoxicated and still be under the legal limit to drive.
“Individuals get behind the wheel that are just continuously drinking with friends and family during the holidays,” Mashore said. “They don’t realize how many alcoholic beverages that they’ve actually consumed in a short amount of time.”
All the volunteers were required to have a designated driver to participate and weren’t allowed to leave unless that had been set up. Once the volunteers left, the officers went over the course with instructors to correct any mistakes officers may have made.
So far, there are only 182 certified drug recognition experts in the state. Law enforcement hope to add more to that.