If someone told you they sat around one night and got drunk, compliments of the Omaha Police Department, you would probably think they were joking – but they just might be telling the truth! Law enforcement officers need to know how to spot signs of intoxication and what better way to train them to do that than with real live intoxicated people. So that is precisely what they do in Nebraska – Nebraska “Wet Lab” volunteers get drunk to help train police.
Over the past several decades, law makers and law enforcement agencies across the country have been focused on raising awareness to the dangers associated with drinking and driving. The legal limit has decreased from 0.10 (or higher) to 0.08 in most states. States drunk driving laws have been strengthened and penalties for a conviction of those laws have increased significantly. Of course, if police officers in the field are unable to recognize the signs of driving under the influence, those changes won’t accomplish their intended goals. Textbooks, lectures, and hypothetical examples can only go so far when it comes to training law enforcement officers to recognize the signs of intoxication.
Acknowledging this shortcoming of traditional teaching methods, the Omaha Police Department decide to join a handful of other department across the country that use real drunk people to help train their officers. “It’s imperative that we teach our recruits how to detect if someone is too impaired to drive,” said Lt. Laurie Scott with the Omaha Police Department.
The “Wet Lab,” which is held inside a police training facility, is never short of volunteers who get to sit around and drink for a three hour period. When a volunteer feels he/she has reached a point at which it would not be safe to drive the volunteer hands over a key chain. At that point the volunteer is given a chemical breath test, participates in a meeting with police recruits, and is then put through a series of standard field sobriety tests just as they would encounter in the field. According to Lt. Scott, recruits are asked if they would make an arrest prior to finding out the test results.
Local prosecutors also attend the training sessions so they can witness first-hand how the field sobriety tests are administered so that they can better explain the tests to a jury when a driving under the influence case goes to trial. “Law enforcement is doing a better job, prosecutors will be more able to convict people of drunk driving because these officers had the proficiency in doing a field sobriety test,” said Assistant Douglas County Attorney Matt Kuhse.