No, I wasn’t being arrested or hauled off for questioning. The officer drove me to the Criminal Justice Academy to get drunk.
That’s right. As a Citizens Police Academy alum, I get the opportunity to volunteer as a role player when the police academy needs to train cadets, or to act as a hostage, victim, or witness for ongoing police force training events (like the SWAT barricade event that didn’t happen).
Last night my job was to get drunk and let the cadets take me through the field sobriety test. I don’t drink much, and it’s probably been more than a decade since I had enough alcohol to really feel the effect, but I couldn’t pass up this chance to help out. 😉
The whole evening was carefully controlled. The coordinator weighed each of the drinkers so we could be properly and safely “dosed”. Once the drinking began, we were assigned chaperones to be with us at all times, and given drinks mixed especially for us.
I chose cranberry juice and vodka, which went down way too easily. We spent the first two hours drinking on command every fifteen minutes, with a break in the middle to take a preliminary breath test (PBT).
We were all guessing our readings, and I figured based on how tipsy I felt that I was over a .1% blood alcohol content (BAC). Wrong. I blew a .056 on the PBT, well under the legal limit of .08. Wow. I may have been legal, but I was definitely impaired and there’s no way I would drive in that condition. In fact, every one of us overestimated our BAC.
After another hour, I blew a .093, and hoo-boy I was feeling it. My table buddies and I were having fun just sitting around talking, and another group was playing cards. Why didn’t I think of that?
Let me take a second to state my amazement at the generosity of some of these folks. Many of them are Auxiliary Police Officers (APOs), which means they go through the same training as, and become, sworn officers, but they do it on a volunteer basis. Most of them also work full time in addition to volunteering a minimum of 24 hours a month.
In Fairfax County, the APOs recently reached one million hours of volunteer time as a group since the program began in 1983. That’s the equivalent of 480 man-years of work. Truly awesome.
The rest of the drinkers and chaperones last night were either Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) who do non-police jobs in the various departments, or CPA alumni like me. Members of both groups regularly give their time and support to the police department.
Okay, back to DWI training. Each of the drunks was a “station” in the gym, and groups of cadets—a mix of FCPD, sheriff’s department, and other trainees—rotated through so that each of them would eventually get the chance to run one of us through the sobriety test, which included eye tracking tests (“follow the tip of my pen”), walking the line, and a test of balance.
No nose touching, thank goodness. I probably would have poked my eye out.
By the third group I found myself thinking things like, “He’s moving the pen too fast,” or “She forgot to ask me if my shoes were comfortable.”
Most of the time I did okay on the heel-to-toe walk and the balance test (martial arts made me a bit of a ringer there), but the eye test never lies. You can’t stop the bounce. The cadets were professional but friendly, and I think we all had a good time.
The event was a terrific way to give them much-needed experience with alcohol-impaired people in a controlled, safe environment. They’re learning to read the signs and make the judgment calls now, before they hit the streets.
I was relieved to learn that even if they didn’t think I was impaired enough for a DWI arrest, they wouldn’t have let me drive home. Police officers don’t play chauffeur though. If you get pulled over and they think you’re not fit to drive, they’ll have you call someone for a ride, or get a taxi.
We took one more PBT at the end of the event—about three-and-a-half hours after we stopped drinking—and I was down to a .066, but still feeling pretty loopy.
Overall, the whole experience was fun. I enjoyed interacting with the cadets and officers, and meeting other volunteers, though I remember now why I’m usually the designated driver. 😉
But I suppose when the next class needs a few drunks, I might be able to meet the challenge.
You know, for the cadets.
Photo credit: 5 DRINKING GLASSES – CLOSE UP © Andy Brown | Dreamstime.com