Alcohol use plays a factor in nearly half of all crimes committed in Texas. Maury Dennis, senior research scientist with the Center for Alcohol and Drug Education Studies at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), cites this as one reason Texas probation officers have such a heavy workload.
Dennis is beginning his third year organizing and teaching a Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)-sponsored training program, Alcohol and Ignition Interlock Training for Texas Adult Probation Personnel.
“Included in the alcohol-related crimes in Texas, 100,000 intoxicated drivers are arrested each year,” Dennis says. “Despite that, we found that probation officers lacked training in all aspects of alcohol, including ways to detect alcohol use and the signs associated with alcoholism.”
Half of the six-hour course examines the issues surrounding alcohol. The other half looks at ignition interlock devices (IIDs). As of 2011, IIDs have been installed in 33,000 vehicles as part of the probation requirements of some DWI cases.
An IID prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has had too much to drink. Before the probationer can operate the vehicle, he or she must pass a breath test. The vehicle will start only if the person’s blood alcohol concentration is below .03.
Periodically, while the IID is in use, a report is electronically sent to the person’s probation officer to help ensure the individual is following the terms of their probation.
The officers learn to read the reports, learn about the technical aspects of the devices and learn about the Texas laws and regulations, Dennis says. “One of the most important elements of the training program is the question-and-answer period during class.”
Dottie McDonnell of Smart Start®, an IID manufacturer, helps teach the classes.
“Mandatory laws have been on the books since 1996, and significant improvements in the technology have been made over the years,” she says. “They now come with anti-circumvention features including on-board cameras, GPS and cellular technology that makes sure the right person is using the ignition interlock device.”
Probation officers gave the TxDOT training course high marks, with 98 percent saying they would recommend the free course to other probation personnel. There are approximately 3,300 probation officers in the state.
“Although it’s being taught only in Texas, I think probation officers across the country would benefit from this course, especially in those states that mandate ignition interlock devices,” Dennis says.