Police officers from across Berks County gathered in Exeter Township this past week to hone their skills at field sobriety testing. The three day Standardized Field Sobriety Test class was hosted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Volunteers from the community were invited to participate the last two days and provided alcohol to help officers practice testing designed to spot impaired drivers.
Sgt. David Bentz of the Exeter Township Police Department said this type of training gives officers a big advantage over regular police academy training. “We take the officers, give them 24 hours of training, one day of lecture and theory, and basically 2 days of how to perform standardized field sobriety testing so that we can make good DUI arrests on the street and get impaired drivers off the road.”
Bentz says the next step of the training is ARIDE, advanced roadside impairment detection training, which is more drug related, but begins with the building blocks of good a solid standardized field sobriety test.
“So for the volunteers, it’s basically a 5 hour day. We start them drinking a little bit early so that we can get them up to a level where they’re eyes do what we need eyes to do when you’re impaired. For the officers, it’s about learning what those eyes do when you are impaired” said Bentz. “And the biggest part of today is the mechanics of that testing because it’s standardized. So they have to issue the test in the same way to every person that they issue them to. So that’s why they repetitively do tests over and over and over.”
Officer Andrew Lucash of the Exeter Township Police Department said the time he had with the volunteers was very valuable and a great experience. “I had training going through the Academy. This is just honing in my skills and being able to see different triggers. I definitely want to get out there and, you know, stop more impaired drivers and keep our roads safe”
For the volunteers, the day began with drinking various alcoholic beverages, talking amongst themselves and playing a few games to pass the time. After a few hours, the group was ready for testing.
During the class, each officer rotated testing different volunteers. The tests included having the volunteer follow a finger/pen with their eyes, walking heel-to-toe on a white line, and finally balancing on one foot.
“We went above and beyond the .08 that it was to legally drive, and I think around like the .06 and the .07 level almost everybody that participated in this event said that they probably wouldn’t drive at that point just because of how they felt and knew what their BAC was” said Tim Thiry. “I think in a different setting, it’s easy to slip past that point and then decide it’s ok to then operate a motor vehicle, even though it’s absolutely not. So it’s interesting to see that with the supervision that we had.”
Ruth Costanzo agreed, “so I feel like we were obviously all very calm and under control, but I don’t envy them pulling people over who are above the BAC and being defensive. I think what they would have to go through is probably a lot. It was a good experience.”
Bentz says your best defense against a DUI driver is wearing your seat belt. “We always say wear your seat belt as though your life depends on it, because it does. And if you see that person in front of you that you feel is impaired, it’s important to dial 911 so we get them off the road and make the road safer for everybody.”