I am not a drunk, but I played one recently at the Brownwood Police Department.
Police officers Fred Bastardo, Johnny Jackson and Randall Krpoun had to coach me on what to do, because I don’t drink alcoholic beverages. Never been drunk. (OK, there was that time I had something called “Irish coffee,” and I was feeling pretty happy after one cup.)
So with a little coaching, I was glad to participate in a training scenario for the police department’s newest officer, Chandra Geis. She was going to encounter a drunken pedestrian — me — and place said person under arrest for public intoxication. I’ve always wanted to be an actor, so this was my big break.
My instructions: don’t resist, just stumble around and talk nonsense. (OK, Walter, I heard that remark and it was hateful and hurtful.)
I’d been invited to come watch the training session for Chandra in the police department’s exercise room.
We gathered at 10 p.m., right at the end of her 2-10 shift.
For most of the scenarios, officer Troy Grusendorf portrayed a wired and volatile man who was subject of a disturbance call.
There had been an argument over a card game, and Troy snarled as Chandra tried to determine the problem. “It’s a card game! Don’t you understand what I’m telling you?” he yelled at one point, believable and threatening.
I’ve seen the police Explorers go through similar scenarios, but this was ratcheted up several notches. This was a different world from the Explorers, the scenarios far more serious and intense.
For the Explorers, performing well means winning contests. For the new officers, it means staying alive. This was some deadly serious stuff.
It became increasingly clear that this isn’t a job for weaklings or cowards as Troy and the other officers showed, in word and deed, some of the nasty things that can happen in this line of work.
It’s not like new officers have come in off the street and gotten hired on the spot. They’ve already been through a police academy, and have been subjected to a battery of written and physical tests, interviews, background checks and psychological evaluations, before getting jobs as police officers.
Once they’re hired, they’re subject to a 12-week “field training” program in which training officers evaluate just about every move they make.
Brownwood police recently decided to incorporate the training scenarios such as the one I watched as part of the field training.
As I awaited my cue, I mentally rehearsed how to play a drunken cat juggler. I knew I’d use some of the ideas my police handlers had just given me, and I also figured I’d borrow from a real-life encounter I had with a drunken pedestrian near the courthouse.
He was looking for something called the “Lemon.”
“Well, the Crazy Lemon’s right over there,” I said. “Is that what you’re looking for?”
“Right over there?” he said, gesturing in the direction I’d indicated. He started to walk away. “Right over there?” he axed several more times.
Later, I saw him in the same area panhandling, carrying a sign that proclaimed some kind of tale of woe that undoubtedly isn’t his fault.
And … action!
I stumbled and mumbled incoherently as Officer Chandra approached, broached the topic of my obvious inebriation and axed me my name. If I’d thought of it at the time, I would’ve said “Johnson.” Oh well, too late now.
“Where’s the Crazy Lemon?” I axed, borrowing from the real-life episode. Mostly, I just improvised, making up my lines as I went.
Chandra was matter-of-fact and professional. It may have been fun for me, but it was not a game for her. In a few minutes, she had me handcuffed and under arrest.
The other officers discarded their serious demeanors just long enough to compliment me on an “award-winning” performance, which, they said, reminded them of some names of real-life drunks.
I’ll admit, I was jazzed over my acting gig. But police reports contain detailed, graphic accounts of drunken behavior, and there is nothing fun about it.
Drunks can be extremely violent and assaultive, sometimes just plain extremely gross, barfing on themselves, barfing in police cars, having bodily functions where they sit or lie.
I can afford to call it “fun.” For me, nothing was at stake — not my life or anyone else’s. For Chandra, the opposite was true. This was deadly serious stuff.
Steve Nash writes his column for the Brownwood Bulletin on Thursdays. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.