Eight Beers Deep With America's Finest - Pacific Standard

Eight Beers Deep With America's Finest

An early look at a Pacific Standard story that's currently only available to subscribers.
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Off the Paddy Wagon: A future officer watches for involuntary jerking of the eyes as he administers one part of a three-test battery meant to determine whether a drunk-seeming driver should be detained. (Photo: John Stillman)

Off the Paddy Wagon: A future officer watches for involuntary jerking of the eyes as he administers one part of a three-test battery meant to determine whether a drunk-seeming driver should be detained. (Photo: John Stillman)

John Stillman reports from a police academy where future officers learn to test drivers’ intoxication levels by testing the legal limit themselves.

Stillman's Pacific Standard story is currently available to subscribers and will be posted online on Wednesday, January 13. Until then, an excerpt:

With the hallway clear, it’s game time. The now-drunk recruits are escorted from the lounge into a gymnasium sparsely decorated with the rubbery upper body of an Archetypal Bad Guy and a crash-test dummy in camouflage pants. The awkward part (or perhaps the main draw) is the woefully sober group of fellow recruits already gathered in the gym, awaiting their teetering entrance. These are the drinkers’ future partners in law and order, the ones for whom they will soon pledge to take a bullet. They’re wearing their uniforms and toting clipboards. Officer-chaperones hover closely over their shoulders.

By now, the drinkers are eight or 10 beers deep, maybe more. Too many to count, or else too many to remember to keep counting. They’re so drunk! Now they’re divvied among sober squads, who are not yet too professional to be amused. As the drinkers struggle, the clipboards laugh. “You should have a video camera for this one!” they say.

Halfway through, the officers in charge turn off the overhead lights and the gym goes dark. The sober squads unholster their flashlights, and suddenly things feel less like a meet-and-greet, more like an inquisition.

They surround a drunk at half-court, order him this way and that, overwhelm him with instructions for some esoteric choreography he’s in no shape to perform. He counts his steps unsurely and begins to wobble. “I’m pausing for your entertainment,” he says. They do not appear entertained. Now his English deserts him. “Sólo conozco el español, señor,” he says. “¡Adiós, buenas noches!

One drinker is so far gone that the press liaison, here to ensure that this curious departmental ritual reaches the public in the most flattering light possible, concedes, “She has no idea what she’s saying at this point.” The sober crew scrutinizes her. “Her eyes are bloodshot,” an inspector notes. She averts her gaze, and her cheeks blush too. The inspector produces something from his pocket and waves it in front of her face. He turns to his cohort. “Yes and yes,” he says. They scribble something on their clipboards. One of them leads her through a heel-toe number, and it’s clear she’s got a case of the sways, but she keeps her feet.

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