(Editor's note: The Globe will be covering each of this year's Citizen's Police Academy classes held by the Dodge City Police Department (DCPD). This is the fifth article in the series.)
This week's block of instruction gave students in the Citizen's Police Academy a look at traffic stops, the general mechanics of accident protocol and DUI investigations.
Cpl. Robert Stein of the DCPD told the class the true job of the officer is to control the situation, whether it be a one vehicle traffic stop or an injury accident. Officers are trained to never take their eyes off a vehicle during a traffic stop as well as to judge body language.
“Routine traffic stops can be very dangerous but also pretty interesting,” he said. “You never know what you're walking up to. It could be someone coming from church or someone coming from just having shot a person.”
Stein said when officers pull a vehicle over, they are taught to create a safety zone between their car and the one they have stopped. Officers are trained to center their vehicle on the white line and position the car at a slight angle with the tires facing the driver's side. There should also always be an escape route for an officer in the off chance the stop goes awry.
A few dangers the police face during a traffic stop include being struck by careless drivers and out of control vehicles.
DCPD's Cpl. Thad Brown explained that the risk posed by a standard traffic stop escalates greatly when the driver is suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. He said DUIs are the No. 1 violent crime committed in the United States everyday. During his career, he has made more than 1200 DUI arrests.
“Every time we arrest someone for driving under the influence, whether they're a drinker or a doper, I look at it as saving someone's life,” Brown said.
He told the class victims of accidents involving alcohol are often not the alleged drunk drivers, but innocent bystanders or other drivers. He shared a drunk driving poem written by an unknown author. The last stanza of the poem reads:
I have one last question, Mom.
Before I say good bye.
I didn't drink and drive,
So why am I the one to die?
Brown acknowledged the danger and tragedy that result from DUIs but also said some of the indications officers are trained to look for when they suspect a person has been drinking or doing drugs can be quite comical.
“The first thing people say is 'I can't say the alphabet backwards.'” Brown said. “Well, I'm the sober one, and neither can I so I'm probably not going to make you do it.”
Page 2 of 2 - The walk and turn test and the one leg stand test are a few of the scientifically validated field sobriety tests the DCPD uses to determine DUI cases. They are also authorized to take blood, urine and breath samples in certain situations.
Next week, the class will learn the legal aspects that an officer has to be aware of when defending themselves as well as the decision making process of firing a weapon.