The blaring blue flashing lights behind The Main Event in Porterdale Wednesday did not result in any arrests, but it would have had it been a real-life situation.
The city of Porterdale and the Porterdale Police Department hosted the Georgia Public Safety Training Center (GPSTC) Tuesday through Thursday to conduct officer training sessions for DUI detection and field sobriety testing. But it wasn’t just slideshows, notes and tests.
Sixteen police officers from departments in Porterdale, Covington, Newton County, Social Circle and Henry County were able to practice the steps and examine signals with five volunteers who were intoxicated. They didn’t just grab drunken people off the streets or from a bar. GPSTC conducted a controlled social experiment to get the three men and two women to a blood alcohol content (BAC) that would constitute illegal levels in Georgia (.08).
No one actually drove. While the officers were downstairs in The Main Event wrestling arena, learning how to detect signs of intoxication during a field sobriety test and practicing procedures on each other, the volunteers were given a mixed drink with 2 ounces of liquor every 20 minutes, with subsequent drinks monitored and adjusted according to each person’s apparent level of intoxication.
“It teaches them what to look for, what they will experience in a real-life situation,” said J.R. Harper, Georgia, the drug recognition expert coordinator for GPSTC.
The goal was to get the volunteers’ BAC just above the legal limit.
“Anyone can find a .23 (BAC),” Harper said. “What we want to teach our students is how to find the .08s and .09s. It really addresses the needs in the community because now they’ll have 16 more (drug recognition) officers than they did three days ago.”
For smaller cities and police forces, that number means a lot.
When you throw a group of relative strangers — definitely not people who go bar-hopping together – in a room and feed them alcohol for two hours, you never know what you’ll get out of their behavior. But Harper knows exactly what he expects out of their bodies’ reactions to the drinks.
“We’ve got it down to a pretty good science,” Harper said.
Breathalyzers were administered before any alcohol was consumed to make sure everyone started at .00 BAC. Newton County Fire Department personnel checked everyone’s blood pressure and vitals to make sure they were at normal levels.
Harper measured two shots in each drink “to jump start the body, then we’ll dose back as it goes.”
“It makes our streets safer,” said Tim Savage, owner of The Main Event and a Porterdale City Council member. “A well-educated police force knows how to better handle the public. We’re on an incline. To see some of the local jurisdictions pulling together like this is great.
“If we’re going to loosen the laws and allow alcohol in restaurants, it’s our responsibility.”
After the third drink, the volunteers were given a break while their BACs were recorded again. Further drinks were measured based on that BAC, gender, weight, experience and self-reported tolerance.
Over within minutes
After four drinks, the volunteers were ready to meet their officers. They were taken outside to police cars with flashing lights to simulate being pulled over. Officers rotated in groups between each volunteer, administering field sobriety tests and recording their findings.
“There’s more to it than just waving our fingers,” said Larry Mooney, Georgia Police Academy instructor for GPSTC. “There’s a lot of science to it.”
Even if someone passes the tests, including walking in a straight line and standing on one foot, Mooney said the eyes give you away “every time.” He teaches students to look for six of the 27 muscles in the eyes. If the person is intoxicated, the eyes will make jerking movements as they scan from one side to the other. And there is no way to control it, he said.
Mooney went around to officers during the sobriety tests, adjusting a flashlight here and giving a note on how to word an instruction there.
The timing of training fit with a real-life night out, too. After two hours of drinking and talking, officers found signs of intoxication within minutes. Back inside, the officers agreed all five volunteers would have been arrested.
The total cost to Porterdale, including the alcohol and officer hours, was about $300, according to Jason Cripps, Porterdale’s acting police chief. The cost was included in the yearly budget as a training procedure.
“You spend just that much now, but the return on investment is through the roof,” Cripps said. “If you save one life, what is that worth? If you save one child’s life or one family, it’s well worth it.”