Participants have a chance to take a drive, learn about DUI procedures
By Julie Gerke
Editor’s note: Citizen’s Police Academy is a weekly series by Julie Gerke, who is participating in the local 12-week class that educates adult students on the work and procedures of local law enforcement.
After weeks of learning about criminal and traffic laws, officer safety and use-of-force rules, taking ride-alongs, firing guns and participating in guided scenarios, a grade school parking lot was the place to put the pedal to the metal for members of the Jacksonville Police Department’s Citizen’s Police Academy.
Under the guidance of officers from the Jacksonville and South Jacksonville police departments — and lots of helping hands from the Citizen’s Police Academy (CPA) Alumni group — the current CPA group drove department SUVs through two obstacle courses, drove a sheriff’s department golf cart through a maze and took field sobriety tests wearing impairment goggles.
“It was fun! It felt fast,” said a grinning Dave Kotowski as he exited an SUV after his first drive through the Eisenhower Elementary School parking lot. Each class member was paired with an officer in several driving sequences, some during daylight and some in darkness.
The class was the final one for the 17 community members who spent 12 weeks learning from officers and others about many aspects of law enforcement. Graduates of the academy are eligible for membership in the alumni group and, with additional training, the Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) group. Both provide many hours of volunteer service to the police department and raise funds for specialized equipment.
More than 500 people have graduated from the academy in its 27 ½ years. This year’s class was the first since the beginning of the pandemic in spring 2020.
In the first sequence of the SUV driving, class members drove through a slalom of orange cones, came to a stop, then wove through the cones in reverse. A longer, winding course included yield and stop signs and a place to parallel park. Once the parking was accomplished, drivers followed a route back to the beginning of the course.
Eventually, each driver was timed and the number of crushed cones counted, with classmates offering both support and critiques amid laughter.
An electric golf cart was used in a similar, tighter course. After familiarizing themselves with that maze, class members drove while wearing goggles that simulate the effects of alcohol.
Some of the drivers had not driven an SUV before; others had not driven a vehicle with a rearview camera. Others, like Michael Reining, had a bit of a leg up on backing through the slalom: He used to drive a semi loaded with roof trusses, and remembered how to swing a vehicle widely to cut a close corner.
At the golf cart course, “I heard a lot of squeaking,” said South Jacksonville Police Detective Sgt. Brian Wilson. “That’s because everyone’s hitting cones.”
The number picked up considerably once drivers (who shared the cart with an officer) wore the impairment goggles. They’d already worn the goggles during a series of field sobriety tests, like walking forward and back along a straight line, looking at the sky while touching their nose with alternating hands and standing on one leg while counting to 30.
The plastic goggles are outfitted with special lenses that mimic the effect of drinking alcohol. The pair used for the class was rated for a blood alcohol level of between 0.17 to 0.20. The state’s legal limit is 0.08.
Next week: Graduation