VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — Members of area law enforcement agencies and airmen of the Vance Air Force Base 71st Security Forces Squadron spent the past week training in standard field sobriety testing and advanced roadside impaired driving enforcement classes.

Officers from the Enid, Watonga, Woodward, Diseny, Lindsay and Sand Springs police departments were on hand, as well as deputies from Cleveland County Sheriff's Office, troopers from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and officers from the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs.

This course was a combination of several alcohol and drug detection programs, all taught by trained drug-recognition experts.

The five-day long course was an amalgamation of several training programs to include the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement program, Standard Field Sobriety Testing program, and certification for Intoxilyzer machine, according to base officials.

This DUI course also offered hands on training for the Vance Security Forces members and Oklahoma police by giving them a chance to perform some of the field sobriety tests in a controlled environment on people under the influence of alcohol.

“This course is about enhancing our detection abilities,” said Staff Sgt. Steven Alderman, the 71st SFS training manager.

For the Airmen taking the course, learning from drug recognition experts was invaluable, said Airman 1st Class Darian Hargrove, a 71st SFS patrolman. The training gave him more confidence in his abilities to use the tools out in the field.

The SFST program educates officers on how to identify and assess drivers suspected of being under the influence of alcohol.

The ARIDE program provides officers the training to observe, identify and articulate the signs of impairment related to drugs, alcohol or a combination of both.

Training alongside members of Team Vance were police officers from around the state and local officers from the Enid Police Department. 

"We’re doing an initial 36-hour standard field sobriety testing class with a wet lab," said EPD Lt. Eric Holtzclaw. "Wet lab means we actually have some participants drinking and we are going to evaluate the officers' performance on interpreting the clues exhibited by real, intoxicated individuals."

Tuesday, volunteers from the base were given measured amounts of alcohol and their blood-alcohol levels were checked periodically prior to standard field sobriety tests given by students.

"We’ll have some at different levels," Holtzclaw said. "We'll test them to see what their level is and have officers administer the tests. It’s a scientifically controlled atmosphere that we're doing this in."

He said the wet lab testing allows the 21 officers taking the training to see the differences between different alcohol concentrations but in a safe, controlled environment provided by Vance.

“Vance is a part of the Enid community and the state of Oklahoma, and we are always working towards strengthening our bond with Enid PD and the surrounding towns,” said Alderman. “Training together is just another way of building that bond.”

In 2018, Holtzclaw said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued new guidelines for standard field sobriety testing and the officers were being trained in those new guidelines.

"The Enid Police Department is conducting a department-wide refresher for all officers to be updated in the new standards," he said. "Every Wednesday during January and February the classes are being conducted."

EPD Officer Matt Hainley, a certified Drug Recognition Expert, was also offering training in recognizing signs of drug-impaired driving.

He said when an officer stops someone for suspicion of drunken driving and they exhibit symptoms of intoxication but the officer cannot smell alcohol, there is a good chance something else is affecting their driving.

He said there are seven categories of drugs, including alcohol, that can impair someone's driving.

"All seven categories are going to have a negative effect on operating a vehicle safely," Hainley said. "It would depend on the type of the drug, the quantity, when they last ate or drank, when they last slept."

He said a DRE can find enough clues from an intoxicated individual to make an arrest for driving under the influence of drugs.

"We're able to narrow it down to specific categories of what this person is under the influence of," he said of the testing. The testing includes checking the pulse of those stopped, as well as checking pupil dilation in different types of light.

The goal of the training is to effectively detect drivers who are under the influence, get them off the streets, and hopefully make people reconsider getting behind the wheel under the influence, according to base officials.

“It is not just getting the drunk guy off the road. It is preventing them from getting on the road,” said Alderman. “If people know we are ready, they might think twice.”

Oklahoma Board of Tests Training Administrator Vince Barnard was also at Tuesday's wet lab training. He coordinates training across the state and said not all of the training for officers uses a wet lab.

"The advantage is that you actually interact with somebody that’s impaired. You can see the impairment in a controlled environment," he said. "When you are training, the closer to the real thing that you're training with, the better the training is."

Barnard said there was a mix of new officers who'v never had such training and officers wanting to brush up on their skills.

"There is a large number of military personal here. They don't typically get this type of training," Barnard said. "They've been a real good group. Most of them are very receptive to the idea of stopping impaired driving and that always helps if you are motivated to do that.

"These are brand new officers. Most of them have never been to training before," he said. "There is some loss of skill when you don't do it. So, if you've got someone that doesn't do it all the time, they will come back through the classes and refresh their skills."

Barnard said those taking the training were being instructed by those with a passion for making Oklahoma's roads safer.

"There’s a cadre of officers throughout the state that are very passionate about DUIs and impaired driving. When you look around the room at the instructors, I would say all these guys are passionate about taking impaired drivers off the streets," Barnard said. "Some are DRE experts and some SFST instructions but all of them have that passion to take impaired drivers off the street."

Barnard said he hopes to see a decline in impaired driving with services such as Uber and Lyft gaining popularity, both among drivers and those too impaired to drive.

"I really think we're seeing a trend since Lyft and Uber is around that more people are using them. I was happy to see when I pulled into the base on Sunday two Uber drivers were leaving. So, they're available," he said. "If they put me out of business, I wouldn't be sad about it at all.

"With so many alternatives, drinking and driving is conscious choice," Barnard said. "DUI takes away too much from our citizens not to actively pursue it."

Capt. Tim Jacobi said the mandatory training for EPD officers will include training in both drunken driving and drug-impaired driving.

He said with the recent legalization of medical marijuana, the department expects to see an increase in drug-impaired driving.

"It's obviously caused some legal, and enforcement, concerns that we wanted to make sure we address with our officers," he said. "We anticipate seeing an uptick in with the recent legalization of medical marijuana."

He said all officers would received the training and that the department will continue to offer training for its officers.

Last year, EPD hosted 83 classes with 94 officers from 45 different agencies attending for a total of 497 hours of training.

"We always invite outside agencies, especially the ones in our Northwest regional area," Jacobi said. "Often, we get several students from different parts of the state, and even Kansas."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2017 there were 10,874 people killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, an average of one alcohol-impaired-driving fatality every 48 minutes. These alcohol impaired-driving fatalities accounted for 29 percent of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities in the United States in 2017.

Of the 10,874 people who died in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes in 2017, there were 6,618 drivers (61 percent) who had BACs of .08 g/dL or higher. The remaining fatalities consisted of 3,075 motor vehicle occupants (28 percent) and 1,181 non occupants (11 percent).

An average of one alcohol-impaired-driving fatality occurred every 48 minutes in 2017. The estimated economic cost of all alcohol-impaired crashes (involving alcohol-impaired drivers or alcohol impaired non-occupants) in the United States in 2010 (the most recent year for which cost data is available) was $44 billion.

Of the traffic fatalities in 2017 among children 14 and younger, 19 percent occurred in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes.

The 21- to 24-year-old age group had the highest percentage (27percent) of drivers with BACs of .08 g/dL or higher in fatal crashes compared to other age groups in 2017.

The percentage of drivers with BACs of .08 g/dL or higher in fatal crashes in 2017 was highest for fatalities involving motorcycle riders (27 percent), compared to passenger cars (21 percent), light trucks (20 percent), and large trucks (3 percent).

The rate of alcohol impairment among drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2017 was 3.6 times higher at night than during the day.

In 2017, among the 10,874 alcohol impaired-driving fatalities, 68 percent (7,368) were in crashes in which at least one driver had a BAC of .15 g/dL or higher.

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Rains is police and court reporter for the Enid News & Eagle. He can be reached at crains@enidnews.com.