NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Policy Turnabout: Police Getting People Drunk

October 29, 2002

Police in a majority of states have training programs involving the use of alcohol and drugs to get volunteers drunk or stoned. The impaired subjects are then studied by state troopers to help them better identify similarly affected drivers in the real world.

  • These so-called "wet workshops" have drawn criticism from those who say the training is unethical and ineffective -- but others say there is no substitute for observing people who are drunk or high, and that the training bolsters police courtroom testimony.
  • While police can give alcohol to volunteers, they can't administer illegal drugs -- so many search for subjects at rock concerts or other venues where drugs are often consumed.
  • Authorities say they follow guidelines to protect volunteers and stay within the law -- and, indeed, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued guidelines for serving alcohol.
  • Breath-test results from road-side stops are generally accepted as powerful evidence in court of alcohol intoxication -- but there is no comparable test for drugs.

Urine and blood tests reliably detect the presence of drugs. But police must have probable cause to ask a driver to take a urine test and getting the results may require a week or more.

To prosecute a motorist on a drug charge, police must establish actual impairment. That requires an arresting officer to testify about the defendant's behavior and reactions. Such testimony can be greatly strengthened if the officer is a state-certified drug recognition expert -- and that explains the need for drug subjects in the training program.

Source: Russell Gold, "Honing Their Craft, Some Police Want to Get You Drunk," Wall Street Journal, October 29, 2002.

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