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Over the limit

Sobriety training gives road deputies added edge

Posted: December 27, 2011 5:33 p.m.
Updated: December 28, 2011 5:00 a.m.
Michael Ulmer/C-I

An officer puts a volunteer through the walk-and-turn test.

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On a Thursday in November, Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) Deputy Jacob Hammond served as part babysitter, part bartender pouring glasses of beer, vodka and bourbon for KCSO volunteers. Despite looking at times like an after-hours office party, Hammond actually took part in a new sobriety training program for road deputies.

As one of the program’s administrators, Hammond poured specific amounts of various alcoholic drinks -- beer, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Jim Beam and Smirnoff Ice -- to prepare the volunteers for the challenge. His goal: to get each of the volunteers over the legal drinking limit of 0.08 blood alcohol concentration to make the training exercises more realistic.   

Hammond said it takes a certain amount of patience to administer the tests.

“It’s hard, especially being around people who’ve been drinking and you’re the sober one. Your nerves get a bit rattled, but you’re still the person that has to hold it all together. But that’s the commitment and the passion that I have for enforcing DUIs, especially in Kershaw County,” Hammond said. “Deputies can’t watch something on a video and get the same benefit that they’ll get here in the classroom. A video is not going to be able to replicate it.”

According to Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews, this was the first-ever round of driving under the influence (DUI) training for county deputies.

“We are taking active steps in reducing the number of people driving around on the roads drunk. Some people may criticize us for giving people alcohol, but that’s really the only way we can do it. You have to have real-life subjects so the officers can test their skills,” Matthews said.

He said volunteers were tested at different levels of intoxication.

“We pretty much have to babysit them until their intoxication lessens to a level where they can actually leave. We control the stages of intoxication, but there’s generally no shortage of volunteers for this kind of thing,” Matthews said with a laugh.

Traders of Camden owner Ralph Cantey Jr. donated the alcohol from his store in Camden’s Dusty Bend. Cantey serves as a board member for Community Action for a Safer Tomorrow, an organization within the ALPHA Center that aims to reduce DUIs.

“It’s kind of a community effort in helping us get drunks off the road,” Matthews said.

Law enforcement officers participating in the training came from within the KCSO, as well as the Camden, Elgin, Newberry and Winthrop University police departments, and Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office. KCSO Cpl. William West and Lee County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chase Iseman helped Hammond administer the training exercises.

Cheryl Jones, a volunteer with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, watched the deputies perform the training. She lost her son in 2003 when he was killed by a drunk driver.

“Every day something brings tears to my eyes even after eight years,” Jones said of her son. “We feel like if we can just make one person change the way they think about drinking and driving and save one life then it’s worth everything that everybody has done.”

Matthews said DUI enforcement efforts are also being helped through the department’s new traffic unit established this summer.

“Last year, from what I’m told, the sheriff’s office made no DUI cases. This year, we’ve made 48. Of that 48, 25 were made since mid-July. Many, many people are grateful for what we’re doing,” he said. “There is a lot more to traffic enforcement than just slapping a blue ticket in someone’s hand. For instance, we have made dozens of drug cases off of traffic stops and we’ve stopped people with weapons, with stolen property, and people who have no insurance. That’s why we’re doing it and that’s why we’re going to continue to do it.”


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