Story and Photos by Patrick Yost
For three days officers learn the subtleties of drunk driving
Tom Robinson was drunk.
And he knew it.
Robinson, a 28–year–old Jasper County resident was trying to perform the one–legged stand in front of a Morgan County deputy and he wobbled. He leaned. He couldn’t keep his foot off the ground without having to right himself.
The officer duly noted his behavior. Robinson laughed.
“Put the cuffs on me. I’m going to jail,” he said.
In a real world situation he would not have had far to go. Robinson, along with four other twenty–something volunteers, was surrounded by 19 officers and more police academy instructors in a dimly lit cavernous room in back of the Morgan County Public Safety facility.
For more than two hours the five volunteers had been “dosed” with five Crown Royal and Coke alcoholic drinks. After each drink the volunteers had their blood alcohol levels checked and recorded with a breathalyzer. The exercise, according to Jonathan Fuss, an instructor with the Georgia Police Academy in Forsyth, was aimed at teaching officers the affect of alcohol on a potential driver. And while the five had consumed the drinks, under the watchful eyes of Fuss and Sgt. Mark Williams, Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, the participants were showing vastly different levels of impairment.
Some showed very little. That was the idea.
“We’re not looking for the person that’s falling down drunk,” said Williams. “That’s obvious.”
For three days the officers sat through intense DUI awareness training. Fuss said the training was intended to school the officers on subtle awareness of impaired driving. According to Fuss 33 percent of all traffic–related fatalities are caused by impaired drivers who register, on average, .015 on a blood alcohol content (BAC) test. Anything over .08 on the test is considered impaired.
“The average BAC of a fatality in Georgia is .015. In order to reduce that average we’ve got to concentrate on the .07 to .08 driver,” Fuss said.
Fuss comes to the training with a passion driven by tragedy and sadness. As an officer, he said, he has had the burden of notifying next of kin of persons killed in drunk driving accidents. “It’s as serious as it can be. When you have to knock on someone’s door at 3 a.m.…. you never forget it.”
Training, he said, will empower the officers to recognize impairment and make solid arrests. The tragedy, Fuss said, doesn’t have to happen.
“It’s a senseless crime and it’s preventable.”
Chris Cary understood. Cary, a 22 Georgia College student and former member of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office Explorer Post, had finished his five “doses” and was on the main floor getting tested. Offices had performed the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test on Cary. The test refers to an involuntary lateral or horizontal jerking of the eye after the consumption of alcohol. The consumption of alcohol and other central nervous system depressants hinders the ability of the brain to control eye muscles. You get, what officers call, “a wobble.”
Cary got it. Comparing the battery of tests from sober to impaired the college student, who hopes to work in law enforcement one day, understood. “The one–legged stand was a lot different and I can definitely feel the wobble,” he said.
For Carisa Robins, a deputy first class with the Elbert County Sheriff’s Office, the training helped her hone her impairment recognition skills. Robins has made more than 30 DUI arrests but was learning proper testing skills and subtle impaired reaction. “This really helps you recognize the signs,” she says. “The training is more in–depth.”
Cory Holcom, a Morgan County deputy with four DUI arrests, said completing the training sharpens his field work. “Now I’ve actually got a focus.”
In total 10 Morgan County deputies completed the training. Officers from Greene, Walton, Elbert, Jones counties and from the Madison Police Department also participated.
The volunteers, who all have an interest in pursuing work in law enforcement or litigation, where happy to help. “I’m helping the community of law enforcement understand the dangers of drunk driving,” said Robinson. “Whatever it takes to keep our community safe.”
“The exercise gives us the skills to identify impaired driving,” said Williams, who was also tasked with delivering the volunteers to their homes at the end of the training.
And, Fuss said, the real–world training drives home the dangers of the “senseless crime.” Our ultimate goal is to go out and make our community as safe as it can be.”
Printed in the March 24, 2011 edition