Learning the ins and outs of DWIsPublished 10:12am Monday, April 9, 2012
Column: Kelli Lageson, Guest Column
As a person who loves to learn, I’m getting my education fix each week at Citizens Academy. In our third week we met two more officers, and they really do seem like decent people who want to help people. Last Thursday we were introduced to Dave Doppelhammer and Ted Herman, who’ve both been with the force for more than a decade.
Officer Doppelhammer walked us through how the department handles DWIs, and I learned a lot. The biggest thing I took away from the presentation is that the penalties are harsh, but they’re that way to deter people from driving drunk.
Doppelhammer has worked 11 of his 12 years on the force on the night shift, which is when the majority of DWIs happen. Lt. Jeff Strom said Doppelhammer has taken it upon himself to focus his efforts on DWI enforcement. Last year he was responsible for about a third of the DWI arrests in the county. Since Jan. 1 he’s arrested 22 people for DWIs.
He said he feels he’s done a good job when he’s deterred people from driving after drinking, not just when he makes arrests. He likes to see lots of cars left in the parking lots near bars, but said even when he will see a person near their car and tell them not to drive, some go ahead and try.
Then Doppelhammer walked us through the process of finding out whether a person is intoxicated. This was interesting to me, because since I’ve never been pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving, I didn’t know the steps. I’d assumed the officer just gave a breathalyzer and took action based on the result. Apparently breathalyzers can be inaccurate and aren’t enough evidence on their own to hold up in court.
Doppelhammer said he’ll first ask the driver if they’ve been drinking, and he said he often gets the same response of: “Oh, just a couple.”
“Obviously people are gonna lie to us,” Doppelhammer said.
He has a long list of cues he looks for including how a person is driving, their appearance (bloodshot eyes or smelling of alcohol) and much more. If he’s suspicious he’ll ask them to do a field sobriety test, which consists of a test looking at how the eyes follow the officer’s finger, a walk and turn test and balancing on one leg. After all that, then a person can get a breathalyzer.
To show how the breathalyzer isn’t always the best tool, Doppelhammer had one of my classmates rinse her mouth with mouthwash, which contains alcohol. Her breathalyzer reading immediately after using it was 0.24, or three times the legal limit of 0.08. But after 10 minutes there was no trace of alcohol.
Also interesting was the penalties for getting a DWI, which as I said earlier are harsh. Even though, obviously, the possibility of harming or killing someone from driving drunk is a deterrent, these penalties also make me never want to drink and drive. A first-time offender would likely get a $600 fine and a stayed jail sentence (meaning they don’t go to jail and are on probation, but would go to jail if there was another offense). Penalties just get worse depending on “aggravating factors” in the arrest like having a child in the car or blood alcohol content higher than 0.20. Then penalties get even worse for having more than one DWI, like loss of license, jail sentences, fines, vehicle seizure or issuance of special license plates — often called whiskey plates.
Doppelhammer next had some class members try on special goggles that mess with your vision, and therefore your balance, to simulate how a drunk person would look trying to take the field sobriety test. While their antics were funny — seeing someone not be able to walk a straight line — Doppelhammer said they looked just like some people he’s picked up. That’s not very funny to me, because that means that drunk person was driving on the road and could have hurt someone.
Doppelhammer also had some great statistics about DWIs, including that men are the perpetrators about 75 percent of the time. He also showed that the number of DWIs is steadily going down, which is in part because of enforcement throughout the state. One staggering statistic was that one in seven Minnesotans has been arrested for a DWI — that’s a lot! The average blood alcohol content for offenders is 0.15, or nearly twice the legal limit.
It was a lot of information to process but a very enlightening presentation. I was surprised at first seeing on the schedule that we had half a class dedicated to the topic, but there was a lot we talked about that I never knew so I guess it makes sense!
School resource officers
Having graduated from Albert Lea High School, of course I knew of Ted Herman, who works at the school. I’m happy to report I didn’t know him closely because I was one of the 95 percent of kids who don’t have much interaction with him. He told us Thursday that most students at the high school are good kids, but there are some who come to him with problems and he likes it that way. He hopes students are comfortable coming to talk to him about any issue.
The purpose of having a school resource officer is to help keep schools safe but also to get into classrooms and teach. Herman said he’s taught drug awareness classes, driver’s ed classes and forensic science classes, among other education. He’s also there to counsel students and said if he wasn’t there to do that then other officers would be dealing with these problems after school and in homes.
Much of what he does is deal with thefts, even more so now with small electronics. He said two to three iPods are stolen each day, and he works his hardest to find out immediately using the school’s camera system so that most are returned. He also deals a lot with bullying — especially on Facebook.
“Facebook is driving me crazy,” Herman said.
He’ll talk to students each day about some fight on Facebook, and he’ll mediate, which is another big part of his job. On days when there isn’t school like holidays and in the summer, Herman does regular patrols for the department. He’s been the school resource officer since 1999 and isn’t looking forward to next year when he’ll be the only one in town. Due to budget cuts, Officer Jay Crabtree, the school resource officer at Southwest Middle School, will return to full-time patrol. Herman will be in charge of all the schools in the district.
It’s unfortunate they’re making cuts to the program, especially after we saw some of the things Herman has confiscated over the years. He had numerous pipes that had marijuana residue in them, lots of knives and even a pellet gun.
I hope you keep reading — next week I learn about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and about crime-free multi-housing.
Kelli Lageson is the special projects editor at the Tribune. She’s enrolled in a weekly Citizens Academy put on by the Albert Lea Police Department. Email her at email@example.com.