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Volunteers get drunk to help APD recruits

By Heather Hintze 5:36 AM February 14, 2014

APD's 'wet lab' allows new recruits to practice their field sobriety tests on intoxicated people.

ANCHORAGE – It may have been 9 a.m. in Anchorage but it was five o’clock somewhere.

“I can make a rum and Coke. Vodka and 7Up, gin and tonic. Shots, beer,” said Anna VenHuizen, a police clerk with the Anchorage Police Department.

Thursday, APD held a “wet lab” to help new recruits practice their field sobriety skills.

Before the tests, the volunteers have to get drunk.

“It’s always a fun time. I’m sure it will be a fun time for you by the time we get to noon here,” said Officer Steve Dunn.

KTVA 11’s MJ Thim was one of the participants along with a group of municipal prosecutors who asked not to be identified or have their faces shown on camera when they’d been drinking.

Dunn explained the rules of the training.

Once volunteers started drinking they had to be escorted to the bathroom or out for a smoke break. They weren’t allowed to share drinks. They were encouraged to eat plenty of snacks, drink water and pace themselves, and each was required to have a designated driver or cab pick them up after training.

One of the most important rules: “No table dancing. All the clothes stay on,” Dunn laughed.

Each person got a calculated number of drinks based on their height and weight. In MJ’s case, he had to have seven drinks through the course of the day.

“The first hour to hour and a half … I’d like you to get at least half of that down. You’re like, ‘Oh my God,’” Dunn chuckled.  “Trust me by the time you get that down you’re like, ‘That’s it? All I get is seven today?’”

They started drinking around 9 a.m. Many of the women chose mimosas, while most of the men chose beer or gin and tonics.

“They’re having fun. So far, so good,” said Officer Chris Ritala. “We’re well on track.”

“I’m on beer number three and I’m definitely feeling it,” said MJ as he took a swig of a Bud Light Platinum.

The group turned on the music and ramped up the drinking. The goal was to get their blood alcohol content to .1 up to a .15 within three hours.

Then it was the new recruits’ turn to go to work. They performed three types of field sobriety tests: checked a person’s eyes, had them walk in a straight line and made them stand on one foot.

“The officers are looking for a person’s inability to hold their leg up for a period of 30 seconds, use their arms for balance, noticeable sway or if they’re hopping,” Ritala said. “Out of those four clues, two clues is the decision point.”

The hands-on training is crucial for new recruits.

The more time they have to practice with drunk people in a controlled environment, the better prepared they’ll be when they hit the streets of Anchorage.

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