Editor’s note: This is an additional story in a series that will follow the Fairborn Citizen’s Police Academy. Look for the installment each week until the course ends.
FAIRBORN — Alcohol works as a central nervous system depressant and impacts individuals as the ethanol within the liquid targets the water in the body. The brain, liver and muscle tissues contain the most water in the body. Therefore, these organs, in that order, experience alcohol effects first.
Fairborn Sergeant Paul Hicks, who has been teaching upcoming officers how to detect OVI’s for the last 16 years, highlighted OVI clues and standardized field sobriety testing, as well as tool used to detect the speed of moving objects during week four of the Fairborn Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy.
“We can do as much proactive [actions] as we can and try to deter it (drinking and driving), but we can’t stop it,” Hicks said. “All we can do is enforce it at that point. Thirty-one percent of fatal crashes on weekends were alcohol-impaired crashes.”
Receiving an OVI charge, which includes being under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs of abuse, starts with an officer observing a driver violating traffic laws. Upon their first contact with the individual, the officer may observe evidence suggesting that they are under the influence, which could prompt the officer to ask the driver to undergo a field sobriety test, take a breathalyzer test and/or give a blood or urine sample. The field sobriety test consists of three parts, which require an officer to observe the individual’s behavior and movements of their eyes and the testee to engage in a divided mental/physical task.
“When you sign for your license, you are saying … that if an officer stops you and says there is probable cause to believe that you are under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and you are requested to take a … test, you will submit to the test,” Hicks said. “If you say no, [it is assumed you’re guilty] and they’re taking your license away. Driving in Ohio is a privilege, so when you sign your license you are acknowledging that it is implied consent. When you don’t follow the officer’s request, then your license will be suspended and that happens as soon as you say no.”
Nystagmus is the involuntary jerking of the eyes. It is difficult to see such in a sober person. However, as an individual is impaired, the jerking becomes easier to observe. The field sobriety test begins with the officer moving their finger from one side of the face to the other to allow them to see the movements of the eyes and to rule out the possibility of the individual having a medical condition.
“Picture turning your windshield wipers on – nice and smooth, going back and forth. What would happen if you turned your windshield wipers on when the windshield is dry? Think about the eye movement – that’s what we’re looking for,” he said.
The walk and turn test requires the individual to stand heel-to-toe with their arms to their sides and listen to all instructions until starting the task. Upon the officer’s direction, the individual would take nine steps heel-to-toe, turn around and take nine steps back in the same manner. As the individual walks, they must watch their feet, keep their arms at the sides, count steps aloud and not stop. If the tested person can’t balance as instructions are given, begin the task too soon, stop while walking, doesn’t walk heel-to-toe, steps off the line, uses arms to balance themselves, improperly turns or loses balance while turning and takes the wrong number of steps, there is a possibility that they are impaired.
The one-leg stand test entails an instruction stage and balance and counting stage. It starts with the officer instructing the individual to stand straight with their feet together, keep their arms at the sides and stay in that position until they are told otherwise. The officer will say the individual should raise either of their legs off the ground six inches from the starting point with their foot parallel to the ground. They should keep both of their legs straight with their eyes on the raised-foot. They will then count, “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two” until the officer tells them to stop.
If the individual sways while balancing, uses arms as a means of balancing, hops or puts their foot down, this may indicate that they are impaired.
“The officer is making a decision based upon their driving, based upon what they say when they walked up to the window and had a conversation, based upon watching them get out of the car and based upon watching them complete the field sobriety test — should this person be arrested,” Hicks said. “They’re taking all that into account … We’re making this decision based on their ability to drive a car, not their ability to take a test.”
Tools used to detect speed
Officers are able to pull an individual over just by observing a driver’s speed. However, In order to complete part of the police academy, officers must judge the speed of a vehicle and be within a five mile-per-hour accuracy in order to pass.
However, there are tools available that can deliver immediate answers regarding speed, including the radar and lidar.
“Our basic speed law in the State of Ohio and City of Fairborn is you cannot drive faster than the condition,” Hicks said.
The lidar uses the power of infrared light signals to determine speeds. It can target moving objects within a 2,000 foot range and offers accuracy within one mile-per-hour. According to Hicks, the lidar has never lost a speed case.
The radar is also capable of determining speeds, but instead uses radio waves in order to do so. Each agency vehicle has one, and delivers a pitch according to how fast an object is moving. Hicks said the faster an object is moving, the higher the pitch will be.