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EXCLUSIVE Refining roadside sobriety testing with TBPS, OPP and NAPS

Supervised volunteers consumed alcohol to help officers during a training course on recognizing signs of intoxication during roadside sobriety tests.

THUNDER BAY — Police officers are constantly participating in updated training and recertification courses to help them in various situations when attending calls. 

A recent training session from the Ontario Police College at Thunder Bay Police headquarters was held to re-educate officers on conducting roadside sobriety tests. 

This reporter had the unique opportunity to participate in and observe some training and examinations. 

The four-day course is specifically designed to help officers conduct roadside tests, such as walking in a straight line or balancing on one foot. 

To conduct these tests, officers need test subjects who volunteer to consume alcohol under a heavily supervised protocol. 

Upon arrival at headquarters, participants filled out necessary medical forms and took their first roadside breathalyzer test as a baseline before consuming any alcohol. 

All alcohol served is precisely measured by an educator with the college and tracked in a specific data program that details how much alcohol a person might be able to consume based on their height, weight and gender when compared to what is within the legal limit for breath and blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

Currently, in Ontario, an individual can face charges if their blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 per cent or more or if they are in the warn range (blood alcohol concentration between 0.05 and 0.079 per cent).

While participants drank their carefully measured beverages and enjoyed snacks, water and lunch, officers were in another training room going over the ins and outs of how to direct people who are suspected of being under the influence of alcohol when doing a roadside sobriety test. 

Over the course of a few hours, two more breathalyzers were administered and measured for the Ontario Police College datasheet and drinks were discontinued in the mid-afternoon before volunteers were ushered down the hall to help the training officers practice their skills. 

The 11 recertifying officers were from various OPP detachments around the region, the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service, Thunder Bay Police, and local representatives from the Ministry of Transportation. 

It's important to note that participating officers have varied career lengths, and this training isn't just for rookies. Some officers in the course have only a few years on the job, while some have been working nearly 30 years.  

Greg Blundell, a sergeant with the police college, said officers definitely need to keep up with the training so the skills aren't lost over time. 

"It's important for everyone to have this training because our main goal is to get as many impaired drivers off the road as possible.

"It doesn't matter if you've had one year on or if you've got 30 years on - we want that skill to be available to these officers so that they can get the people off the road that are impaired. Our main goal is to keep the roads safe, and with getting impaired drivers off, it's only going to make our streets safer."

Volunteers were instructed only to follow officers' instructions and demonstrate areas where the officers could improve when executing the roadside tests. 

Tests that volunteers participated in included specific styles of observing eye movements, "walking the line" in a fashion that could showcase signs of intoxication of alcohol, as well as balancing tasks that would also highlight possible drunkenness. 

Blundell said a lot of training focuses on the eyes. 

"Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eyes. So when someone has had too much alcohol or had a certain amount of drug that's at a higher level, it's going to cause what we call the nystagmus and their eyes will jerk as we're testing them and you just can't control that."

All tests administered by officers have substantiated research behind them to help police confirm various signs of intoxication. 

Officers took the training seriously, and they were coached by the police college instructors, who allowed them to hone their choreography when running the tests. 

Following strict grading guidelines, recertifying officers explained to the instructors why they gave the marks they did to the volunteers and how the test results provided more conclusive evidence that alcohol intoxication was at play. 

At the conclusion of the officers' trial tests, another breathalyzer was administered to volunteers. 

Blood alcohol level is the amount of alcohol present in a person's blood as they drink. It’s calculated by determining how many milligrams of alcohol are present in 100 millilitres of blood.

One volunteer had almost twice the legal limit with a measurement of 140 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milligrams of blood after consuming less than 10 ounces of booze during the testing period. 

This reporter scored low on the blow tests but, based on various factors, would've likely been arrested all three times by the training officers. 

After only two-and-a-half ounces of alcohol all day, the breathalyzer indicated the reporter's BAC was 31 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. 

Even though this is not close to the warn-range of 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, it was nystagmus in the eyes that officers noted during testing and behaviour and body language that further confirmed the volunteer was intoxicated. 

Looking back to 2023, Thunder Bay police laid 116 alcohol-related charges, 79 drug-impaired charges, and 22 people charged for failing or refusing to comply with a demand. 

So far this year, there have been 41 impaired drivers charged, with 22 being impaired by alcohol and 15 were drug impaired. 

There have also been four refusals or failing to provide a sample on an approved screening device. 

Katie Nicholls, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Katie Nicholls, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Originally from central Ontario, Katie moved here to further her career in the media industry.
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