The Citizen’s Police Academy, Part 3

After a class dealing with context and a class dealing with awareness, the third class applied some of these ideas to actual events that police handle. The third class dealt primarily with DWI, traffic stops, and the proper procedures that officers (and to a lesser extent civilians) should follow.

The first half of the class included a presentation by Krysta’s Karing Angels, an organization that tries to bring awareness to the horrors that result from drunk driving. The most sobering part of the presentation was the opportunity to inspect a vehicle that had been struck by a drunk driver. It is one thing to see pictures of such devastation. It is another thing to see it in person.

As Mark Rodriguez, the presenter, stated, the driver of the vehicle that killed his daughter made a choice to get drunk. He then made a choice to drive. He could have called a cab (this was before Uber). He could have asked someone to drive him home. He could have slept in his car. He had many alternative choices that he could have made. Certainly, people who are drunk don’t make good choices. But one can and should be cognizant of the fact that drinking will impair their judgment and ability to operate a vehicle. They can make appropriate arrangements long before they take their first drink. Each of us is responsible for our choices and their consequences.

We were then instructed in the standard procedures officers follow in a DWI situation. The various tests that they use, such as testing eye responses and motor skills were explained. While these tests can be revealing, they are only a part of the equation that an officer uses to determine an individual’s level of intoxication. As our instructor pointed out, alcohol and other drugs can impact our cognitive abilities. And officers are trained to test cognitive abilities as much as motor skills. Understanding that injuries and other medical issues can impact motor skills, a battery of tests are used to determine impairment.

We then moved on to traffic stops. Our instructor again stressed the importance of context. When an officer stops a vehicle, he knows nothing about the driver and passengers. The officer does not know if the owner is driving, the vehicle is stolen, if there are warrants on the occupants, or anything else. At the same time, the driver and passengers know a great deal. They know whether they have warrants, possess weapons or drugs, and much more that could impact the situation. Our instructor noted that on every traffic stop, he reminds himself that this may be the time someone tries to kill him. It’s his way of reminding himself to remain aware.

One of the students played the part of a driver stopped for a traffic violation. When the officer asked to see his license, the “driver” said that it was in his back pocket. The officer instructed him to get it. The student calmly reached behind him and then produced a plastic pistol. I knew that the student had the “gun,” and yet I was surprised. That quickly, the officer could have been dead.

Certainly, any of us could face a life threatening situation without warning. But police officers face that potential in ways that few of us do. Seeing such a scene play out a few feet away made me appreciate even more the difficulties law enforcement officers face.

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