When drinking helps police

Jason Auslander ❘ The Aspen Times
Brian Vanderpool of the Snowmass Village Police Department administers a vision test on volunteer Matt Lanning Tuesday as part of a field sobriety test training session.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

On Tuesday, my job was to get drunk.

This being Aspen, I know some of you might be vaguely familiar with the concept, especially now that spring offseason is upon us. However, day drinking is not my usual professional routine, so the invitation to imbibe made me hesitate at first.

But, hey, pretty good work if you can get it, right?

And not only did my boss know about it, she enthusiastically signed off on the idea. And even better, the Aspen Police Department would be buying the drinks, mixing them up for us and later providing a safe ride home. The police threw in lunch and salty snacks, too.

So what’s the catch?

Police officers, sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement personnel must be recertified every two years to be able to administer standardized field sobriety tests to drivers they stop and believe might be intoxicated, so they have to practice. And to practice, they need drunk people.

As you can imagine, it’s not hard to find volunteers.

At about noon, three fellow day drinkers and I met at the Aspen Police Department, where Officer Walter Chi ushered us into a police cruiser and drove us out to the Airport Operations Center on Owl Creek Road.

Walter led us to a room full of windows that looked out over the airport and the surrounding mountains and began to unpack the supplies. Besides myself, our group of volunteers included two people with law enforcement connections and one former bartender now working as a brand ambassador for a boutique tequila company.

Sarah Talbott, an assistant district attorney who prosecutes misdemeanor cases in Pitkin County Court, and I would be sharing the bottle of vodka Walter brought along. Matt Lanning, the former bartender, would, of course, be drinking the Suerte tequila he reps, while Dorian Emery, an Aspen Police Department customer service officer, stuck with her usual Miller Lite bottles (not the 3.2 kind, Walter said).

At about 12:30 p.m., Walter broke out the ice and poured Sarah and me vodka drinks with soda and orange juice. Matt opted for tequila, neat. Dorian cracked a brew.

And the party was on.

Walter had suggested we bring something to do, but we were a chatty group, so no one got bored. We broke out guacamole with chips and salsa, then ate take-out from The Big Wrap as Walter made sure we didn’t get too rowdy and kept count of the number of drinks we had.

We also filled out questionnaires that determined, based on sex, height and weight, the appropriate number of drinks it would take to get us to between 0.12 and 0.14 breath alcohol content — far above the legal driving limit of 0.08. Matt and I are about the same size, so we each estimated it would take about eight drinks to get there. Dorian and Sarah thought six drinks would do the trick.

At about 2 p.m., we passed around the Breathalyzer for the first time. I’d had about two drinks at that point and blew 0.031. Matt was 0.044, Sarah 0.050 and Dorian was 0.033.

An hour and 10 minutes later, we went around again. I was 0.068, Matt was 0.137, Sarah was 0.111 and Dorian was 0.035. Forty minutes after that — about 3:40 p.m. — the DUI training class was ready for us.

At that point, Matt and I had consumed seven drinks each. Sarah finished six and Dorian was on her fifth beer. My breath alcohol content was 0.112, Matt’s was 0.134, Sarah’s was .135 and Dorian’s was 0.046.

We walked into a nearby classroom, where it turned out we’d be guinea pigging for an advanced, two-day class on impaired drivers put on by the Colorado District Attorneys Council. We broke into four groups and the testing began.

I recognized several familiar faces from the Aspen Police Department and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office as I followed fingers from side to side, walked a (somewhat) straight line, balanced on one leg and tilted my head back and counted to 30 (in my head).

Aside from the eye test, which no one can fake or even know how they’re doing, I felt like I did OK, though I could have been a total mess. Matt, on the other hand, hit a bit closer to the total mess mark. Sarah was giddy, and Dorian unknowingly played a trick on the students.

But it really didn’t matter. The class later agreed that all four of us would have gone to jail.

And in the case of Matt, Sarah and I, it would have been for good reason. My final breath alcohol content test, which was about an hour into testing, was 0.107, Matt’s was 0.176 (!) and Sarah’s was 0.128.

Dorian’s final test yielded a 0.033. However, she was taking medication, which affected her eye tests and made the officers think she was intoxicated. And, as Walter later pointed out, a driver with those characteristics may have been intoxicated on something nonalcoholic.

In the end, it was a fun vacation from working – like playing hooky in high school on St. Patrick’s Day — and I was glad to help out and volunteer.

But I was happy that my job on Wednesday was not to get drunk.


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