Police trained in sobriety testing
Those thinking about getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol might want to think twice now that the number of law enforcement officers trained in detecting potential drunk drivers has increased locally and across north Mississippi.
Ten officers now have additional skills that will help them be more effective in catching drunken drivers following a three-day seminar recently in Starkville.
Held at the Holiday Inn Express this week, nine officers from the Starkville Police Department and one from the Gulfport Police Department became certified in Standard Field Sobriety Testing, which helps officers judge someone’s impairment from consumption of alcohol or other intoxicating substances.
SPD officers Crystal Hackett, Torrance Hampton, Hardy Joiner, Chris Kennard, Brandon Lovelady, Bruce Smith, Kenny Watkins, Bubba Willard and Mandy Wilson completed the course, which ran from Tuesday to Thursday.
The officers were taught physical symptoms of intoxication and learned some standard field tests that can be used on the streets to gauge whether a person has been impaired from drinking alcohol or other drug use, said Shane Kelly, one of several SPD officers involved in teaching the course.
Kelly is one of the SPD’s designated DUI officers and — along with Officer Andy Round, Sgt. Shawn Word and Sgt. Chadd Garnett — is one of the SPD’s certified SFST instructors.
“The tests involved in standard field sobriety training are a series of divided attention tests, during which officers can pick up clues to possible intoxication,” Kelly said.
To give the officers hands-on training in applying the field sobriety testing techniques such as the one-legged stand, the walk and turn test and the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the instructors involved a test group of volunteers from the community who each consumed different amounts of alcohol over a two-hour period to achieve varying levels of intoxication.
Those in the test group registered varied levels of impairment from alcohol to make sure the officers are conducting the tests properly and are able to discern how intoxicated someone might be, said Kelly
Each volunteer was given a breath test on a calibrated Intoxilyzer machine to measure blood alcohol content (BAC) before being given the alcoholic beverages to make sure none had consumed any alcohol before arriving at the seminar.
The number of drinks each volunteer consumed over the two-hour period was also recorded, as well as the type of alcohol — whiskey, vodka and beer — consumed.
Prior to being taken outside for the officers to apply their field sobriety testing techiques, each volunteer was given a second breath test on the Intoxilyzer machine to determine his or her BAC after at least two hours of drinking, Word said.
Under Mississippi law, someone who registers a BAC of .08 percent is considered legally drunk.
The BAC levels for the five volunteers ranged from .063 to .179
percent, said Melissa Harvey, one of the LEL staff members helping to conduct the seminar.
The three major field sobriety tests officers regularly perform are the following:
• Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) — This test involves the subject being tested following an officer’s finger or a pen with their eyes while keeping his or her head stationary.
“The definition for nystagmus is the involuntary jerking of the eyes. When you have someone follow your finger or pen or some object, their eyes, if they have been drinking, are going to jerk whether they want it to or not. They don’t have any control over it,” said Word.
“If they haven’t had anything to drink, then their eyes should be smooth as they follow or track your finger or pen. There are several clues in this test we pick up on that indicate somewhat might be intoxicated.”
• The “walk and turn” test — This test is one many know as the “walk a straight line” test. But it involves more than people think as officers look for at least 8 different clues of intoxication.
“The walk and turn is a divided attention test or tasks. What that involves is having somebody listen to you and listen to instructions while standing somewhere they have to have a position of balance,” Word said.
“Somebody who’s been drinking is more worried about their balance and not listening to instructions; in which case they will mess up on the instructions part where you’ll be getting clues that they just weren’t paying attention.”
• The one-leg stand — Like the walk and turn test, the one-leg stand is also a divided attention test, Word said.
“In this test, we have a person lift their foot up and count for 30 seconds. Most individuals who have been drinking will put their foot down, and there are various other clues that we look for,” Word said. “It’s the same type of divided attention test as the one-leg stand. The subjects are trying to keep a correct balance so they are not worried about a count.”