More than two dozen Philadelphia-area police officers received first-hand experience giving field sobriety tests to a number of intoxicated volunteers Wednesday afternoon.
The officers, who traveled to the Bucks County Public Safety Training Center in Doylestown, have been taking part in a three-day training session put on by the Pennsylvania DUI Association. The training involved classroom learning and Wednesday’s “wet lab” portion.
In the cafeteria of the training center that sits on the same campus as the Bucks County Correctional Facility, officers worked with volunteers who were “dosed” with various alcoholic drinks. Their intoxication level was measured and the officers trained by giving the volunteers field sobriety tests that challenged their ability to walk a straight line, follow a moving object with their eyes, and balance.
No one was getting sick as instructors carefully planned out how much each volunteer would drink before taking part in the training. The group who pitched in to drink began in the mid-morning and were intoxicated by noon.
A visibly intoxicated Jenny Yoder, a Souderton, Montgomery County, resident, followed instructions from officers as they conducted the field sobriety tests. She would have failed in the field and was not capable of safe driving, the officers surmised.
The case was the same for the six other volunteer drinkers who were tested by officers.
Volunteer Bill Pichkan, a Philadelphia resident, had trouble balancing during one of the field sobriety tests administered by officers in training.
Bucks County’s Director of Law Enforcement Training Rich Vona said it was important for the officers to deal with intoxicated volunteers who exhibited real signs of intoxication.
Before taking part, trainers made sure the volunteers had no medical conditions that could cause issues and no history of alcohol abuse.
“The officers get a whole lot out of this,” Vona said of the training.
Once the classes are over, officers will take a test on what they learned to achieve a certification that will prepare them for DUI checkpoints and traffic stops.
Forks Township, Northampton County, Officer Leigh Lamanzza said he learned a lot from the class and the wet lab.
“I’ve learned what to look for to find intoxication,” he said, adding a key indicator of intoxication was involuntary eye movement.
Officer Ed Mongelluzzo of the Darby Township Police Department in Delaware County said the class has proved helpful. He aims to become a certified DUI detection instructor and teach his fellow officers what to look for during DUI stops.
For Yoder, the vodka mixed with soda she drank was for more than just fun but to help prepare officers for real-word encounters with impaired motorists.
“It’s my civic duty to day drink,” she joked.
“To be honest, I wanted to know my limit,” Pichkan said of the training.
He explained that the training showed him first-hand what officers deal with and was a new experience for him.
Meagan Howe, a volunteer from Branchburg, New Jersey, called the training “intense.”
Vona said the skills honed in the controlled training session will come in handy for officers in the field.