Standard Field Sobriety Test Evaluation

One solution to enhance learning might be to require that all officers take the initial course and to then develop online content for follow-up briefings and re-testing of knowledge every six months. This would be more rigorous than the current method of having refresher courses every three years. The frequency of the retraining would reinforce the seriousness of the issue.

While it is true that there is an optional SFST update course to be taken within six months, the course is not mandatory. While an SFST instructor must supervise the SFST practitioner administering the SFSTs in initial administration, the 35 test cases within six months of the initial training that the officer must complete are not supervised and thus there is no ongoing feedback during the course, limiting its effectiveness. Feedback is an essential component of learning — in the classroom and in the field.

Level 3: Behavior

While Levels 1 and 2 are problematic in the current evaluation of the training course, even more serious is the inconsistent behavior on the part of officers. It has been surmised that some officers have more contact with DWIs more than others. Officers who work days with little DWI contact or who have never had SFSTs thrown out of court because of improper administration may be less competent at administering and less scrupulous in their administration of the test, when called upon to do so during an program assessment. An examination of how material is transmitted through SFST training indicates while it may touch upon the necessary bullet points required to satisfy the law, the curriculum design does not use effective learning and teaching methods to facilitate retention, particularly if experience does not act as reinforcement.

The most behavior-based part of the administration of the SFSTs involved the scoring of a videotaped illustration of an individual performing the SFST battery. However, the Texas Impaired Driving Advisory Board at the 8th Annual Alcohol, Drugs, and Impaired Driving Conference in Plano, Texas, said this was an insufficiently hands-on approach. Watching a video is not the same as an in the field assessment, and more behavior-based assessments, such as reenactments of DWI tests, might be a better way to improve retention.

An increase in hands-on training and observation is essential. After all, no officer would feel competent watching a video, when learning how to handle a firearm.

Having actors to come in and simulate various types of physical intoxication would be a kind of residency for the officers, much as medical students often interact with actors simulating illnesses. While this would not be a perfect recreation of the effects of intoxication on eye movements and all biological aspects of drunkenness, being graded on how officers administer DWI tests to real people would still enhance officer education.

Level 4: Results

Tracking SFST results statistically for officers as a whole, and officers in different departments and with different levels of experience; tracking officers who do and do not do follow-up courses; tracking night vs. day shift officers would all provide valuable information as to what characteristics and experiences reinforce the principles of effective training. This would also enable the departments and types of officers found to be particularly lacking to be targeted for mandatory retraining.

Filming officer interactions with suspected DUIs and DWIs with police car cameras for training purposes would enable officer behavior in the real world to be assessed. So long as such videos were used for training purposes alone, and not in a punitive fashion, this could be a valuable wake-up call for officers who were either apparently failing to spot DWIs or not adhering to required legal procedures. Finally, routinely reviewing the actual components of DWI testing in a scientific and empiric manner, and having officers shadowed by trainers to assess their in the field actions followed by a debriefing is perhaps the most effective method of testing knowledge. This shadowing method provides mentorship and specific, tailored advice in a manner that is useful for individual officers. The one-on-one nature of such assessment reinforces learning in an emotional as well as an intellectual fashion through direct contact with a fellow officer. By introducing such components into the training and post-training, some of which have been deployed in other states such as Colorado and North Carolina, Texas should.

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