Police recruit volunteers to binge on drugs-alcohol – WSJ

Police recruit volunteers to binge on drugs-alcohol_ WSJ

Tue, 29 Oct 2002

In 1998, The Washington Post reported about the accidental death of a volunteer firefighter who had been recruited by the police to be a test subject whose purpose was to get drunk: “A Lanham man who volunteered to drink hard liquor to help teach police recruits how to conduct sobriety tests was killed in an alcohol-related crash Thursday night several hours after leaving the police training facility…

“Police said Daniel Theurer, 26, died of injuries suffered when he lost control of his motorcycle, which jumped a curb and struck a tree about 11:30 p.m. on Whitfield Chapel Road near Jenna Court. His precise blood-alcohol level at the time of his death has not been determined, but a preliminary investigation shows that speed and alcohol were factors in the crash, officials said. The accident occurred about 4 1/2 hours after the end of the training session.” [See: Philip Pan, Volunteer In Alcohol Test Dies In Crash, Washington Post September 12, 1998, Pg. B01]

The Wall Street Journal reports today: "In the search for strategies to deal with the stubborn and deadly problem of driving under the influence, many cops are turning to an unusual tactic: Recruiting volunteer drinkers and drug users to teach officers to recognize impaired drivers." Since there are no broadly used guidelines for recruiting drug users, "That leaves police largely to their own devices."

At least one expert in the field, Tom Page, a former policeman in Los Angeles and Detroit who now advises departments around the country on drug recognition questions the efficacy and ethics of the practice: He says, “Volunteers” invited to be drug subjects may feel they have no choice but to cooperate: “The police, for their part, may be enlisting the help of people they should be arresting. Looking for subjects at the county jail fails for pedagogical reasons, Mr. Page asserts, because it is so likely that everyone will be drunk or on drugs. He recommends to his clients that police learn to do evaluations in real-life settings, out on the road.”

Experiments that encourage people to self-destruct “for study purposes” demonstrate the absence of rational, ethical standards. The first moral consideration mandated by the Nuremberg Code, is that the research is justified because the information sought is "unprocurable by other methods or means of study." Surely, that elementary ethical standard is not being met in these police study exercises.

~~~~~~~~~~~ Honing Their Craft, Police Want to Get People Drunk

Cops Learn Roadside Tests for Alcohol And Drug Use by Studying Live Subjects

By RUSSELL GOLD Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/29/02 Front page

Cpl. Taft Green Jr., a white waiter’s cloth tucked into the pants of his Texas highway-patrol uniform, poured margaritas for a roomful of state employees. Four fingerprint technicians settled into a game of spades that grew rowdier with each round of drinks. Others munched on peanuts while listening to the music of Texas blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Soon, a dozen earnest state-trooper cadets gathered to scrutinize each of Cpl. Green’s guests, politely asking them to walk heel-to-toe for nine steps and then stand on one leg for 30 seconds.

Sgt. Doug Paquette of the New York State Police had a similar mission when he parked a Winnebago camper at a heavy-metal rock concert in Albany. He put a sign in the window that said, “Volunteers wanted for drug research.” He recalls telling the handful of curious fans who knocked on the door that he was looking for subjects to help police spot signs of illicit drug use. One reveler told him, ” ‘I’m not screwed up now, but I’ll be back in a couple hours,’ ” says Sgt. Paquette. And some of them came back.

In the search for strategies to deal with the stubborn and deadly problem of driving under the influence, many cops are turning to an unusual tactic: Recruiting volunteer drinkers and drug users to teach officers to recognize impaired drivers. The tactic is drawing criticism from skeptics who think it isn’t effective or ethical. But advocates say there is no substitute for working directly with people who are drunk or stoned and that the training helps bolster courtroom testimony by officers.

Texas and a majority of other states hold “wet workshops,” in which bar-tending cops get volunteer subjects drunk. Police in Minneapolis say they drive around looking for people on the street who appear to be on drugs. Officers stop the wobbly pedestrians, promising they won’t be arrested. If the subjects agree, the police take them back to the precinct house, where other officers are waiting to inspect them.

The most common technique, used in Phoenix, Houston and other cities, is to intercept nonviolent arrestees on their way into jail. Police offer food and an hour-long diversion from the holding tank, in exchange for their services.

As part of a nationwide movement against drunk driving that blossomed in the early 1980s, authorities in most states began broad use of roadside tests for alcohol. It is more difficult to diagnose drug use quickly, and it requires more training to learn the craft. As a result, police say they are only now catching up on that front — and are eager to find human guinea pigs.

Tom Page, a former policeman in Los Angeles and Detroit who now advises departments around the country on drug recognition, argues that some of these techniques are ineffective and ethically questionable. “Volunteers” invited to be drug subjects may feel they have no choice but to cooperate, he says. The police, for their part, may be enlisting the help of people they should be arresting. Looking for subjects at the county jail fails for pedagogical reasons, Mr. Page asserts, because it is so likely that everyone will be drunk or on drugs. He recommends to his clients that police learn to do evaluations in real-life settings, out on the road.

Safeguards, Guidelines

Authorities say they follow safeguards to protect volunteers and stay within the law. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued guidelines for serving alcohol: Officers shouldn’t carry firearms during wet workshops and should screen volunteers to make sure they don’t have a history of alcoholism. “Volunteers should be released only into the custody of responsible, sober persons,” the guidelines say.

Police can’t administer illegal drugs, however, and there aren’t broadly used guidelines for recruiting drug users. That leaves police largely to their own devices.

Sgt. Paquette in New York has been scouring rock concerts for 14 years. The state police aren’t condoning drug use in order to train troopers to detect it, he says. “These kids are getting stoned whether we are there or not.” At least one other state, Massachusetts, says it recruits at rock concerts.

Sgt. Paquette recalls one time in the summer last year, when officers walked through the crowd outside of a concert near Buffalo, seeking volunteers. “Some [music fans] were impaired at the time we talked to them. Others said, ‘We’ll see if we can help you out,’ ” and later stopped by a sheriff’s substation to do so, he recalls.

California and some other states prohibit being stoned in public. But New York doesn’t, as long as drug users aren’t endangering themselves or another, such as by getting behind the wheel of a car. Possessing drugs, however, is illegal almost everywhere. Sgt. Paquette says he often offers concertgoers a friendly warning: “If you come with drugs in your possession, you’re ours.”

Officers who pull over a driver they suspect is drunk typically administer a three-part initial test: walking a straight line, standing on one leg and touching hand to nose. If a driver fails, that provides legally required “probable cause” for police to ask to administer a breath test. Widely available breath-test devices can reliably determine legal intoxication, which in most states starts at 0.08 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. Breath-test results generally are accepted as powerful evidence in court, accompanied by testimony from arresting officers.

The analogous roadside drug test includes the walking, balancing and nose-touching steps, plus many more. The additional elements include a range of medical questions and scrutiny of eye-pupil size and movement. Controlled substances ranging from depressants, such as barbiturates, to stimulants, such as cocaine, can have very different effects. There is no device for roadside drug detection comparable to breath testers.

Urine and blood tests reliably detect the presence of drugs. But police have to have probable cause to ask a driver to take a urine test and getting the result can take a week or more. To prosecute someone for driving under the influence of drugs, the authorities generally have to show not only the presence of the drugs but actual impairment. That requires an arresting officer to testify about the defendant’s behavior and reactions.

That testimony can be greatly strengthened if the cop is a state-certified drug-recognition expert, or DRE, and has administered the 12-step test that most states now embrace. DREs were first certified in 1989. Today, there are a total of about 5,400 in 36 states. Certification typically requires 72 hours of classwork and 12 accurate evaluations of actual drug users.

The human costs of driving under the influence are great. An estimated 17,448 people were killed in alcohol-related car accidents in 2001, according to the most recent figures available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The number of accidents involving alcohol has dropped sharply since the early 1980s, but the annual figure appears to have bottomed in 1999 and has crept back up a bit since.

The government doesn’t gather comparable figures for drug-related auto fatalities, but drugs and driving are a problem. Based on a 2001 national survey, the Health and Human Services Department estimated that eight million people had driven under the influence of an illicit drug in the previous year, compared with 25.1 million persons who drove under the influence of alcohol.

Drinking Under Scrutiny

Police agencies across the country say they are eager to improve officers’ ability to turn up both drug and alcohol use by drivers. The Texas Department of Public Safety in June offered its back-office employees a paid day off to drink under scrutiny. Police also invited law-enforcement students from a local community college. People with certain medical conditions exacerbated by alcohol, as well as those younger than 21 and older than 65, were excluded. The allure of state-provided booze wasn’t enough to fill the 35 slots, however. Only 21 people showed up for a 10:30 a.m. session.

By mid-afternoon, secretary Lorna Meyer was visibly tipsy. As Cadet Dennis Redden administered the sobriety test, she told him he would “be one hell of a trooper out in a little town no one has ever heard of.” She promised to attend his graduation. An hour later, she was in a deep slumber on the floor. (Mr. Redden graduated, without Ms. Meyer in attendance, and is assigned to a barracks in Canton, Texas, population 3,466.)

The father of drug-impaired-driver testing is Dick Studdard, a now-retired Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle cop who began adapting the technique from roadside alcohol-testing in the late 1970s. In 1985, researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore checked his methods by having 80 volunteers take marijuana, valium, amphetamines or a placebo. Mr. Studdard and three fellow officers pinpointed the correct drug more than 90% of the time.

Interest in the Studdard approach grew slowly, with Arizona law-enforcement agencies embracing it the most enthusiastically. Police from a dozen states, including Iowa, Rhode Island and Kentucky, have traveled to the Maricopa County jail in Phoenix to complete their 12 required evaluations for DRE certification.

Sheriff’s Department Officer Paul White supervises the training at the jail, the nation’s fifth-largest municipal lockup. Mr. White, 35, brings a personal zeal to his job: When he was a high-school senior, he was pulled over in Columbia, Mo., for driving with a missing tail light. The state trooper didn’t notice he had been smoking marijuana. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, you have no clue how stoned I am.’ ” Mr. White says. “What if I had gone down the road and killed somebody?”

On a torrid Friday evening in August, dressed in a black T-shirt with “Sheriff” in yellow letters, he was scanning the crowd of incoming arrestees. “Welcome to jail. The wet bar is closed, but the sauna is open,” he said jovially.

Mr. White avoided subjects who appeared surly or completely zonked out. Instead, he focused on one in a green shirt arrested for attempting to run out of a department store with a stack of blue jeans. Mr. White shined a penlight into his eyes for a few seconds, then asked the man to close his eyes and estimate when 30 seconds were up — a standard part of the 12-part test. Twelve seconds later, the arrestee’s eyes popped open, a possible sign of a stimulant such as cocaine. Mr. White looked at his watch, shook his head and both men laughed. In short order, the arrestee admitted smoking crack two hours earlier.

After a quick explanation of the test and a promise of anonymity, Mr. White assigned the man — nicknamed “Polo” because of the insignia on his shirt — to Arizona State Police Officer Kristi Shelley. She was unaware Polo, 32, had just confessed his drug use to Mr. White.

First, Polo, was brought his reward: grape juice and a couple of plastic bags filled with white bread, turkey slices, brownies and plums. Inmates who are brought in after 6 p.m. generally don’t get fed until breakfast, and Polo had arrived shortly after the cutoff.

Ms. Shelley then took his pulse and checked his pupils. She jotted down that his movement when walking was “robotic,” a possible sign that he’s on a stimulant. He was free of needle marks but had blisters in his mouth, which could have been from smoking a hot crack pipe.

After interviewing her subject — today was the first time he tried to steal, Polo says — Ms. Shelley checked her notes one last time. Her conclusion: cocaine.

“It’s that obvious, huh?” Polo replied.

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