Banner Graphic: Developmnt of a Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) Training Management System

The Research

Project staff met with representatives of the Colorado Department of Transportation and NHTSA's Region 8 Office to discuss project objectives and methods before beginning the series of open-ended interviews with law enforcement personnel. During those meetings we learned of Colorado's Law Enforcement Assistance Fund (LEAF), an effective and uniquely appropriate means for supporting efforts to counter drinking and driving. Approximately 90 dollars from each DWI/DUI fine paid in Colorado is allocated to LEAF for disbursement to municipal and county law enforcement agencies in the form of grants to help support DWI enforcement activities. More than 20 million dollars in LEAF grants have been awarded since the program began in 1984. Two of the criteria for receiving LEAF grants are that an agency must have at least 80 percent of its officers trained in SFST administration, and the agency must conduct SFST refresher training according to the state standard.

Law enforcement agencies that have been particularly active in the LEAF grant program were identified and the names of contact personnel at those agencies were obtained from the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Rocky Mountain Institute for Transportation Safety. A protocol was developed to guide the discussions and to ensure that all relevant information would be collected.

Discussions were held with representatives of 16 Colorado law enforcement agencies. The agencies included municipal police departments, sheriffs' departments, and the Colorado State Patrol. Agencies ranged in size from the seven-officer Buena Vista Police Department to the 1,400-officer, consolidated Denver City and County Police Department. The agencies included in the sample represent nine percent of Colorado's law enforcement agencies, but account for approximately 40 percent of all law enforcement personnel in the state.6 Some of the discussions were conducted during site visits to the agency headquarters, others were conducted during the Rocky Mountain Crash and DUI Conference, and others were conducted by telephone.


Results of the discussions with law enforcement personnel are presented in the following categories: SFST Initial Training, SFST Refresher Training, Training Management Methods, and Utility and Feasibility of a Statewide SFST Records System.

SFST Initial Training

The strong emphasis placed on DWI enforcement by Colorado law enforcement agencies is evident in agencies' policies regarding initial training. In particular, all of the agencies included in the sample provide initial SFST training to all new recruits. Four methods are used by the agencies to provide SFST initial training. 1) The larger agencies, such as the Denver Police Department (1,400 sworn officers), include NHTSA's DWI detection and SFST training in the curriculum that is taught at their departmental academies. 2) Smaller agencies, such as the Montrose Police Department (30 sworn officers) use the services of regional police academies, which also include SFST training modules in their curricula. 3)ÊMany agencies, such as the Adams County Sheriff's Office (80 sworn deputies) and the Pueblo Police Department (200 sworn officers), conduct their initial SFST training internally, often opening their classes to neighboring agencies. 4)ÊAgencies of all sizes send recruits to initial SFST courses offered by the Rocky Mountain Institute for Transportation Safety (RMITS). In addition, nearly all SFST instructors in Colorado receive their initial training from RMITS.7

Further evidence of the emphasis placed on DWI by Colorado law enforcement agencies is found in policies regarding officers who transfer from one agency to another. Many of the agencies in the sample require transferring officers to take the full 24-hour NHTSA DWI detection and SFST course upon entering the department, even if they have received initial training elsewhere. Similarly, many agencies require officers who have not had patrol assignments for more than two years to take the SFST course again. And, several agencies, including the Littleton Police Department (70 sworn personnel), require that officers be certified in SFST administration before they are eligible for overtime assignments.8 Policies such as these encourage officers to become certified in SFST administration and to maintain their proficiency through regular refresher training.

SFST Refresher Training

The proponents of Colorado's SFST standards experienced resistance from some law enforcement agencies concerning the plan to require refresher training. The original proposal suggested eight hours for practitioners and 16 hours for instructors, every two years, to maintain certification. The original proposal was considered to be too costly by many law enforcement managers, both in terms of training costs and officers' absence from the field. A minimum of two hours of refresher training every two years for SFST practitioners, and eight hours every two years for instructors, was an acceptable compromise for nearly all Colorado law enforcement agencies. Among the agencies in our sample, only the Aurora Police Department has yet to establish an SFST refresher training policy for practitioners in response to the state standards.9

The high level of commitment to DWI enforcement exhibited by Colorado law enforcement agencies is further illustrated by the SFST refresher training policies adopted by agencies throughout the state. Nine of the 16 agencies in the sample have adopted refresher training policies that exceed the state standard for practitioners. The policies of five of the agencies are twice the minimum requirement, and four of the agencies adopted policies that are four times the minimum. Table 2 presents the distribution of refresher training requirements for SFST practitioners of the sample of 16 Colorado law enforcement agencies. All of the agencies provide the refresher training as part of their on-going, in-service training programs.

Table 2
SFST Refresher Training Requirements For Practitioners: 
16-Agency Sample

All but two of the agencies contacted during this study have adopted the state refresher training standard for SFST instructors (i.e., eight hours of refresher training every two years). The two agencies in the sample that are not following the state guidelines have adopted policies that involve twice the state's minimum requirement (i.e., eight hours of refresher training each year, rather than every other year). Further, instructors from several of the agencies that adopted the state standard also plan to attend eight-hour, refresher training courses every year, rather than every other year. All of the SFST instructors who were interviewed described the refresher training courses as essential to their professional development and effectiveness as trainers. Officers reported that attending the courses ensures that an instructor is aware of the latest developments in SFST procedures and relevant legal issues.

Exceeding the minimum requirements for practitioner and instructor refresher training is a strong indication of law enforcement support for NHTSA's SFSTs and reflects the dedication of Colorado law enforcement personnel to improving traffic safety. It is significant that officers reported during interviews that the new state SFST standards already have elevated the level of professionalism among SFST practitioners and instructors, and contributed to improvements in the consistency and quality of officers' expert testimony in court.

Training Management Methods

Nine of the law enforcement agencies contacted during the study, including the largest agency in the sample, currently use paper records to keep track of practitioner SFST refresher training requirements. The paper records usually are maintained at agency headquarters, as part of each officer's personnel file, and as lists of officers or course rosters by either the agency's DUI supervisor or the designated SFST instructor.

Three agencies in the sample use computerized spreadsheets to track the SFST training experience of individual officers. In each case, the spreadsheet was developed by a DUI supervisor or SFST instructor to help determine when officers need refresher training to maintain their certification. The DUI supervisors of two of the agencies that use paper records mentioned that they also intend to develop spreadsheets to help with the task, as soon as they find the time to do so.

Two of the agencies contacted use unique computer-based programs to identify SFST training requirements. The programs were developed by agency personnel to manage all training-related matters for their departments, including the many special topics for which recurrent training or skills-demonstration are required at various intervals (e.g., CPR, First Aid, Pressure Point Control Tactics, Intoxilizer, SFSTs). Administrative personnel in the training divisions of these agencies update the databases when an officer reports that training has been completed, and provide individual training histories to each officer annually. Supervisors also receive the training histories and may use the information during performance reviews.

The SFST instructors in one of the agencies contacted use a computer program that was developed originally to track Intoxilizer certification requirements. The program was developed under contract to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) for use by CDOT grant recipients and has been modified to also track SFST refresher training requirements.10

Instructors in all 16 of the agencies contacted are expected to keep track of their own SFST refresher training requirements and to attend the necessary eight-hour courses to maintain their instructor certifications. Some of the instructors reported that notices issued by the LEAF Grant Program and course schedules included in the RMITS newsletter serve as reminders.11

All of the methods for managing SFST refresher training described in the preceding paragraphs, whether paper-based or computerized, share one important requirement: someone must review the records to identify who needs refresher training and by what date they need it to maintain their practitioner certification. The central question remains: How do officers know when they are due for refresher training?

Although instructors are expected to keep track of their own certification requirements, two separate philosophies concerning refresher training for practitioners emerged from the interviews; one approach favors notification while the other stresses personal responsibility.

In this regard, nine of the agencies in the sample inform officers of pending SFST training requirements. Agency personnel review paper or computerized records, then inform the officers, either personally or by posting lists of names. The officers in these agencies may be assigned to a specific class or permitted to choose from among a few options, for convenience, but in all nine agencies the officers are informed of the commitment and required to attend a training session.

In contrast, the policies in six of the agencies place the responsibility for maintaining SFST practitioner certifications on the officer. Officers in these agencies may inspect their departmental training records or maintain a personal log of certification dates for their own use, but they are not specifically informed by their agencies that they must attend an SFST refresher training course. Schedules of courses usually are posted, but in these agencies it is the officer's responsibility to determine when a course must be taken for the officer to remain certified.

Methods are needed for keeping track of officers' most-recent SFST training dates because the state standard for practitioners requires that refresher training be completed at a maximum interval of two years, and officers receive(d) their initial SFST training and/or subsequent refresher training on different dates. Four of the agencies contacted during this study have avoided much of the administrative work associated with SFST refresher training by requiring that all officers attend a class each year, rather than every other year. Three agencies require four-hour classes and one agency requires a two-hour class. The classes are provided as part of an annual in-service program, as in the other agencies; the difference is that all officers must attend the refresher course each year.12

Utility and Feasibility of a Statewide SFST Records System

The final question in each open-ended interview conducted during the current study asked whether a centralized, statewide database of SFST practitioners and instructors would be useful. Representatives of nine of the 16 agencies in the sample responded that they did not believe that a statewide database of SFST practitioners would be useful to them, nor would it be practical to implement. These officers and managers commented that their existing methods for tracking training requirements were adequate for their purposes. Three of the four agencies that conduct annual refresher training are in this category because an annual training policy largely eliminates the need for a tracking and scheduling system to satisfy the state requirement for training at two-year intervals. Further, some of the officers did not believe that CDOT would be willing or capable of administering the central database; others commented that it would be impossible to obtain the cooperation of all law enforcement agencies in the state.

Officers from six of the agencies contacted responded that they believed a central SFST database would be useful, especially for smaller agencies that lack administrative personnel to perform the necessary record-keeping tasks. However, officers from four of the six agencies that favor a centralized system commented that it would be impractical, for the same reasons offered by their colleagues who did not believe that a centralized records system would be useful.

The officers and managers were asked if a statewide system might facilitate the confirmation of credentials when an officer transfers from one agency to another. Only two of the officers considered this to be a potential benefit of a central SFST practitioner database. Most of the officers reported that their agencies obtain the complete training histories of transferring officers from the officers' previous agencies, eliminating the need for further confirmation of credentials or certifications. Also, several of the agencies in the sample require transferring officers to attend initial SFST training, along with new recruits, regardless of a transferring officer's previous training experience. This policy is designed to ensure that all officers in the agency are properly trained and administer the SFSTs in a consistent manner.

Despite the apparent lack of support for a statewide records system for SFST practitioners, officers and managers from nine of the agencies contacted responded that a central database for SFST instructors might be both useful and practical. A centralized SFST instructor database would help smaller agencies to identify instructors in their area, and might contribute to the growing sense of professionalism among SFST instructors. Further, a centralized database would facilitate the timely dissemination of updated SFST information and materials. Officers commented that an instructor database would be more feasible than a practitioner database because there are only about 300 SFST instructors in the state, compared to several thousand practitioners.

  1. More than half of the law enforcement agencies in Colorado have fewer than 40 sworn officers; 76 of the agencies have ten or fewer officers.
  2. The Rocky Mountain Institute for Transportation Safety (RMITS) is part of the Division of Educational Outreach of the Colorado State University.
  3. For example, the Pueblo Police Department does not require detectives to maintain their SFST certification, but detectives must recertify if they wish to participate in special, overtime, patrols.
  4. All new recruits to the Aurora Police Department receive the 24-hour NHTSA SFST course at the department's academy, and all Aurora Police Department patrol officers have been trained in SFST administration. However, there are many older officers on the force who joined the department before SFST training was included in the curriculum. Police managers believe it would be too expensive to provide all of those officers with the 24-hour SFST initial training courses.
  5. The Intoxilyzer Certification Records program was developed by Brad Wiesley & Associates. Intoxilyzer operators must be recertified every six months. The process involves only a brief demonstration of proficiency, compared to the less frequent, two-hour refresher training course that is required to maintain SFST certification. However, Intoxilyzer instructors spend a great deal of time maintaining the equipment and providing individual refresher training to operators.
  6. Instructors' course fees for RMITS refresher training are paid by CDOT for all SFST instructors who received their initial instructor training from RMITS; that is, instructors' agencies are responsible only for paying travel costs associated with SFST instructors' refresher training.
  7. For example, the chief of the Buena Vista Police Department devotes a two-hour team meeting each year to SFST refresher training; all seven full-time and five part-time officers are required to attend. Similarly, the 30 SFST instructors of the Colorado State Patrol provide four-hours of SFST training to each of the agencies 600 officers every year, also during regularly-scheduled team meetings. In both agencies, the sessions help satisfy officers' annual in-service training requirements.