Cops practice sobriety tests

Jessica Steeno

and Andrew Tellijohn

It’s not unusual for students to celebrate the end of finals week by imbibing vodka, whiskey or rum. But this time, the University Police supplied the booze.
Before the busy New Year’s holiday, five volunteers gave 15 police officers a chance to practice testing subjects for sobriety at the University Police station. The exercise was part of a training program for new officers, five of whom are members of the University police force.
Todd Cannon, senior account specialist for University Parking Services, was one of the participants. He learned that no matter what a subject tries to do, involuntary reflexes cause eye movements that make it impossible to fool the cops.
“When they explained it to you, it was really cool,” he said.
For two hours, the five subjects were encouraged to drink all the rum and Cokes and vodka sours they could stomach … and more.
“It was really hard to drink that much in two hours time,” said Cannon, who is not a heavy drinker.
Then they were asked to walk down stairs — a difficult task for some of them — and to perform several tests identical to the ones they would attempt if they were pulled over for suspected drunk driving on the highway.
Immediately after the drinking session ended, Cannon registered a .08 on the Breathalyzer. That isn’t considered legally intoxicated in Minnesota, but just like the other participants, the officers said, if it was real life he would’ve been arrested.
Most of the other subjects didn’t perform as well on the tests as they had expected either. Some couldn’t walk a straight line, while others failed to stand on one leg and count backwards.
“I was surprised at the number of stupid things I did,” said Jon Hagel, general manager of a local cleaning company. “And I didn’t even realize it.”
Sgt. Joe May of the University Police force said the testing is beneficial for new officers because it gives them an opportunity to observe the effects of alcohol and learn what to look for.
The volunteers registered anywhere from a .07 blood alcohol content to a .16 when given a Breathalyzer test after they finished their two hours of service to the community. An alcohol content of .10 is defined as legally intoxicated.
After the drinking had been completed, the volunteers were given two hours of sobriety tests. They walked a straight line, counted while standing on one foot and followed the movements of a pen with their eyes while the supervised rookies decided whether or not they would arrest them.
As he drove the weary participants home, Sgt. Joe May said the exercise was useful not only for training officers and but also for educating citizens. It teaches them that people can teach themselves how to pass some of the tests while intoxicated and that others are impossible to train for.
“You can’t train the eyes,” he said.