By Sarah Snyder
For years, officers from all over West Texas have been going to Midland College for training on how to catch people who get drunk behind the wheel.
Part of that training includes learning how to use the intoxilizer and getting a little tipsy themselves.
Before an officer can hit the streets, they have to go through the forty hour Breath Alcohol Testing Program.
They learn about how alcohol affects the body, what the legal limit feels like, and how to operate the intoxilizer, that's the machine at the station where suspects are tested again after they've been arrested.
There's only one woman in all of West Texas certified to teach the class.
"It's really quite an eye-opening experience for them," Kristi Swearengin with Texas Breath Alcohol Testing at Midland College, said.
When an officer needs to learn how to deal with a D.W.I., there's only one place in West Texas to go.
"They get a lecture on ethanol, pharmacology of alcohol in the body, how to use the intoxilizer, D.W.I. laws, and then every afternoon they spend working hands-on with the intoxilizer learning its workings, and how to operate it," Swearengin said.
It takes a week for an officer to become certified at the beginning of their police career, then, they must take a follow-up course each year.
"It's very important to us to make sure we have a contract with Midland College, that's up to date," Midland County Sheriff Gary Painters, said. "They are the ones that furnish the individual that is trained, that has the expertise and the technical knowledge to know how to maintain these pieces of equipment and make sure they're accurate all the time."
But there's one lesson during the class that officers, and their teacher, seem to remember the most.
"You go in there, and the practical part of it, you'll take some officers and they will drink a limited amount, a measured amount of alcohol," Sheriff Painter said. "Then, every 30 minutes or every one hour, they will have their intoxilizer test run so they can look and see how much it affects an individual and what kind of return they get from the machine, which is, I think, invaluable."
"Oh they love it," Swearengin said. "I provide everything, so basically, they get to come in for one afternoon and basically get a little intoxicated on Midland College!"
This special training saves money and time.
"It saves money by having everyone trained," Sheriff Painter said. "That way, you have that officer that made the arrest, he does the D.W.I., he does the intoxilizer, rather than call in someone off the street."
"This is just near and dear to my heart," Swearengin said. "And you know, I feel like it's my life's mission just to try to educate these officers so that they can get out there and do their job and get these people off the streets."