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Hildalgo County in the Lower Rio Grande Valley has one of the highest rates of alcohol-related fatalities in Texas. But local law enforcement officers are working with TEEX to address the problem by improving DWI (driving while intoxicated) enforcement.

By the end of April 2002, more than 140 officers in the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department will have learned to detect alcohol and drug impairment through the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST), according to Lt. Oscar Montoya, director of the training academy for the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department. A year ago, only a few officers in the Sheriff’s Department had been through the SFST training.

When used by a trained officer, studies have shown the sobriety test to be more than 92 percent accurate at detecting drivers whose blood alcohol concentration is higher than the Texas legal limit of .08 percent. The primary components of the test are the walk-and-turn, one-leg stand, and an eye-tracking test called “horizontal gaze nystagmus.” Officers use the test results to develop probable cause for arrest and as evidence in court.

“Officers who have been through the TEEX training in SFST say it has really enlightened them and gives them an edge out on the street,” Montoya said. “We’re getting very positive feedback.

“The class has the most up-to-date information, and we have a big push going on to get everyone trained,” he added. “The drinking problem here is one of the worst in the state, so we’re taking this seriously and trying to get a handle on the problem and making sure our guys are properly trained.”

“The entire Lower Rio Grande Valley Region is moving forward in getting this training,” said program manager Albert Reeder, who came to TEEX from the Kingsville Police Department. “We’ve made a concentrated effort to get the training into the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and we’ve had help from local law enforcement officers in promoting it and educating officials. They are seeing the impact of alcohol-related traffic fatalities, and this training is becoming a high priority for them.”

Reeder expects about 500 officers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to be trained in SFST by the end of April 2002. Brownsville is even including SFST training in the curriculum for its police academy. The next priority is to increase the number of trained instructors in South Texas, Reeder said.

“Sheriff (Enrique) Escalon is taking a tough stance on drinking and driving,” Montoya added. “Our department has gone to a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving for our own officers. The sheriff’s goal is to get people to drink responsibly, and if you drink, don’t drive. And that goes for everyone in the community.”

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Kathy Fraser

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