cedar rapids / iowa city criminal defense

Cedar Rapids Iowa OWI Lawyer: How indoctrination at the law enforcement academy can lead to confirmatory bias in OWI investigations

by David A. Cmelik Law PLC


Law enforcement academy trained officers in the State of Iowa receive a “three-day program to include OWI legal, OWI Detection, Standardized Field Sobriety Testing, Drug Recognition for Street Officers, and Chemical Testing with DataMaster Training.” Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Course Catalog (available at: https://ileatraining.org/default.aspx?act=EBCoursesDetail.aspx&startrow=1&coursesid=64&menuitemid=236&menusubid=) (last visited November 23, 2017). 

But in that training—  to justify OWI arrests— such officers are barraged with unknowable statistics masquerading as science. For example, the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy DWI Detection and SFST instructor’s manual directs trainers to indoctrinate course participants with the following “facts” by way of introduction to the purpose of making OWI arrests:

At any given time, 2 percent of drivers on the road are impaired.

After 10 PM, that number jumps to as much as 10 percent.

Each day in the United States, three hundred thousand people drive impaired but only 4,000 are arrested.

As of 2013, there were over 10,000 so-called “alcohol related” fatalities in the United States.

The DWI instruction manual cites to the 2013 FBI uniform crime reporting (UCR) statistics compilation apparently for some or all of these facts but ultimately acknowledges that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is making a mere “estimate.” The origin of this “estimate” is not made clear in the ILEA OWI and SFST training manual.

The first two are absolutely unknowable. There is no way to “estimate” how many drivers on the road are impaired but who are not arrested. Even the training manual acknowledge that a more reasonable and more frequently cited number is that only one in fifty drivers is impaired at any given time. The instructor’s manual sheepishly acknowledges that “[t]here's nothing wrong with that figure as a statistical average” but qualifies it without citation by stating that “but police officers know that at certain times and places many more than two percent of drivers are impaired.” They just know it. Right. Anecdotal and unsupported “facts” aside, the training manual is arguably attempting to tacitly justify arrest quotas that exceed drunk driving in the general population. In essence, they are “ginning” up officers to make arrests and “confirm” their suspicion that there are more drunk drivers on the road than commonly accepted statistical averages imply. 


If you or a loved one has been arrested for Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, or other Iowa community, commonly called DUI in other States, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC at https://www.daclawfirm.com. However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and that sending unsolicited information to an attorney over the internet does not establish an attorney-client relationship. 

XY Graph with jagged arrowed line moving upward on graph paper

Because, math.  It should come as no surprise that law enforcement officers are indoctrinated by their trainers at the academy. They are trained to believe that, by investigating and making OWI (DUI) arrests in Iowa, they are saving thousands of lives. Trainers are directed by the federal transportation agency to disseminate factoids like "over 10,000 people die at the hands of drunk drivers every year" and "at any given time after 10 PM, over ten percent of drivers are impaired," neither of which are grounded in actual science. In fact, the only thing that this kind of fuzzy math predicts is the number of arrests that exceed the only statistic that even law enforcement admits is commonly accepted: that typically only one in fifty drivers is impaired, a far lower number than trainers repeat to academy cadets. Suffering from exaggerated statistics, hyperbole, and oft repeated law enforcement mythology about saving lives, OWI (DUI) detection can lead to confirmatory bias. If you or a loved one has been arrested for OWI (DUI) or other offense in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, or other Iowa community, ​contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC at 319-389-1889.

1450 Boyson Road Suite C-2A Hiawatha, Iowa 52233     319-389-1889