Drinking for the greater good

February 4, 2008

by Jennifer Gallus

When I heard that the Howard Lake Police Department needed volunteers to drink alcohol for its efforts in field sobriety training, I thought, “Hmm, now that’s the kind of volunteer work that I could suffer through!”

I mean really, it takes a certain type of selfless individual to willingly spend time consuming alcoholic beverages while playing cards and eating chips in the company of a bunch of cops, but I forced myself to do this.

I was up for this daunting challenge and I dragged three of my Herald Journal cohorts with me – Kristen Miller, Ryan Gueningsman, and Jesse Menden. So of the eight volunteer drinkers that evening, four were from a newspaper – what does that tell you?

The Howard Lake Police Department provided rides to and from the location for the volunteers to ensure the safety of all involved.

The State Patrol conducted the training that the HLPD coordinated and hosted in the Howard Lake fire barn. There were about 30 officers at the training from a variety of area, metro, and greater Minnesota police departments.

The goal was for the volunteer drinkers to drink enough alcohol in a two-hour period to get their blood alcohol level to the legal limit of intoxication.

After this time period, the officers in training could begin practicing field sobriety tests on the drinkers, thus developing skills in key indicators to observe during a DWI stop.

A chart, based on one’s weight and gender, was provided that detailed how many drinks it would take in a two-hour time period to get to the desired .08 level.

This was interesting because my target was seven, 1-ounce shots in the two hour period – a number that I never get close to on the rare occasions that I do enjoy such beverages.

An average 150-pound male would need to drink nine shots in that time period, which goes to show just how hard a person has to work at getting a DWI, said Howard Lake Police Chief Dan Lang.

After we all figured out our target number of drinks to consume, the brutal volunteer work began.

There were numerous, harrowing games of cards played, several bags of chips that had to be eaten – or else, and comical conversation endured; not to mention a boat load of pictures taken by the drinkers, of the drinkers, that would make for good blackmail material.

Of course drinking under the supervision of cops is something I’ve never experienced before. They were a hospitable bunch, but they maintained a level of reserve that we’ve all come to expect from cops.

I’d like to see what they’re like when they cut loose! I wonder if the majority of police officers always maintain a level of control or responsibility about themselves.

After our time allotment was up, we were then instructed to blow into a PBT device (Preliminary Breath Test) before the field sobriety tests were administered on us.

Everyone reached their desired number of drinks within the time period except for me. I was feeling a little under the weather and didn’t want to push things, which the officers were completely OK with.

However, I still reached the legal limit along with everyone else.

The cops were divided into eight groups and each group performed three basic field sobriety tests on each volunteer drinker.

While doing the “walk the line” test, I was instructed time and again to remove my high heels, thus (in my mind) adding 10 pounds to my frame! You ask a short chick to remove her high heels and you can consider those “fightin’ words!” Was I going to fight cops? Umm, no!!

The eye test always cracked me up. For some reason, being asked to follow the tip of a pen with only your eyes and not moving your head while the officer moved the pen back and forth in mid-air made me laugh every time. But then when the pen was moved up and down, well that was enough to make me sick – I don’t know why.

The third test, where we had to stand on one leg, look at our foot and count, was pretty uneventful for me. Although the looking at the foot while feeling a little woozy was somewhat difficult.

All-in-all, I was very impressed with all the cops that night. They acted professionally and took their task at hand seriously.

The officers had three days of training in Howard Lake with two days of field sobriety testing along with classroom instruction, and a third day that focused on child seats, seat belts, and other controlled substances that can impair driving.

It’s always reassuring to know that our police officers receive training on a regular basis, and do not take their jobs lightly.

I think the officers were thankful to all of us volunteers for our role in their training. With this training all the officers are certified in conducting DWI enforcement and being involved in NightCap and Safe-N-Sober programs.


One morning just as I got out of bed and was walking to the kitchen I heard my 8-year-old yell, “Clean up on aisle 6!”

Not knowing what he was talking about, I soon found him standing over a big mess of crumbs and shredded plastic made by our dog who had gotten into some people food overnight.