Lt. John Hornsby, Fort Meade DES Traffic Division Chief, performs a breathalyzer test on 1st Lt. Maya Hauersberger, a wet lab volunteer, on June 22, 2023. Hauersberger, along with three other volunteers, consumed alcohol and participated in mock field sobriety and breathalyzer tests to allow officers to practice their skills in a controlled environment. (U.S. Army Photo by Jasmyne Ferber, Fort Meade Public Affairs)
By Jasmyne Ferber, Fort Meade Public Affairs
(Fort George G. Meade, Md.) -- Statistically, the average drunk driver drives 80 times before their first arrest. To combat this number, Fort Meade Directorate of Emergency Services conducted a four-day standardized field sobriety test training event for its officers.
From June 20 to 23, 2023, DES instructors provided lessons and practical application exercises on how to perform traffic stops and field sobriety testing. Officers who completed the course received certifications through the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, the governing body for all transportation-related safety in the United States.
“These training events occur about once or twice a year,” Lt. John Hornsby, Fort Meade DES traffic division chief said. “It ensures that our officers are trained efficiently at detecting DUIs and DWIs.”
To Hornsby, who taught the course alongside DES Traffic Sgt. Nickolas Sieg, this type of training event is beneficial to the Fort Meade community because it decreases the amount of people driving under the influence.
“The more people we are able to detect and get off the street, the more effect it has on reducing the amount of people who drive while they’re intoxicated in the future,” he said.
The standardized field sobriety test is comprised of three components – the horizontal nystagmus test, which tracks a suspect’s eye movement; the walk-and-turn test and the one-leg-stand test. Students were evaluated on their ability to administer the test verbatim in a controlled environment and required to complete a written exam.
“Fort Meade doesn’t have video cameras in their cars, and they don’t have body cameras, so we have to be super proficient in our notetaking skills and making sure we do the steps correctly,” said Spc. Gabrielle Lambert. “Being able to know what I’m looking for now will help me to pull over and make the decision and the arrest, if needed, because drunk drivers should not be on our roads.”
Along with teaching the students how to conduct these tests, instructors also showed them how to identify possible impaired drivers prior to contact.
“We’re showing them certain drivers’ behaviors that may lead the officer to believe that they should conduct a traffic stop because the person might be impaired,” Sieg said. “So, the different kinds of swerving, traveling down the wrong direction of a roadway, or being unable to maintain their lane.”
To assist with the proficiency exam, four people volunteered to participate in a wet lab, where they drank and became inebriated so the students could practice their skills in a real-world scenario.
Baltimore City Police Det. Tim Hamilton and Sgt. Bradley Helm, who facilitated the wet lab, said they wanted to provide students with a tangible experience because “the only way students actually learn is to physically see it…if they see it here, they know and are more comfortable with their decisions.”
Helm also said they wanted to show the students how the effects of alcohol can vary based on the persons’ body composition.
“[Lt. Hornsby] kept track of what each participant was doing so they could control how much they were taking in so it’s not like the participants in the class were seeing solely inebriated individuals. They’re seeing different levels because what one person might be at a .03, might be the same as what someone else might be at a .08.”
Once all the officers are certified, Hornsby hopes to put together an annual two-day refresher course.
“The statistic is 1 in 100 drivers are driving drunk and only 1 in the 100 is caught,” he said. “The more we can get out there and catch those individuals who are driving under the influence, the greater it is to then decrease the amount that will happen in the future and decrease that number from 1 in 100 to 1 in 50, or 1 in 25 or 1 in none. That’s the goal really, it is to have no drivers who drive intoxicated.”