Trooper Robert Sharp cruised by a Glen Burnie 7-Eleven and couldn't help but notice a man having trouble closing the side door to a van.
The state trooper noticed it even more when the door fell off and about a dozen empty beer cans tumbled onto the parking lot. He watched as the man, oblivious to the officer's presence only a few feet away, gathered the cans and threw them away.
Then the trooper and Matt Ketteringham, an 18-year-old senior at Glen Burnie High School who was along for the ride to learn about the effects of drunken driving, got out of the unmarked police car, and the trooper began asking questions.
One look inside the van told the story: Another man was slumped in the driver's seat, a half-full bottle of cheap wine between his legs; a third man next to him held a 3-year-old girl in his lap.
"Look at that man," Trooper Sharp said, pointing inside the van as a crowd of onlookers grew. "Do you think he should be driving?"
It was as good an example as any for the dozen teen-agers who accompanied state troopers from the Glen Burnie barracks Friday night, as they hunted down speeders and drunken drivers on the roads of Anne Arundel County.
Operation Night Ride is designed to give the youths a firsthand look at the effects of alcohol. The troopers hope that an up-close look at accidents and arrests will discourage drinking and driving.
"Hopefully you will get a good experience tonight," Lt. Ron Murphy, coordinator of the program, told the youths before they set off. "This is something that will help bond the older people to the younger ones -- so they can find out that we are human."
Mr. Ketteringham, who, like most of the teens who participated, is considering going into law enforcement, said he "just wanted to see what police work was like."
He and several other youths got a good dose at the convenience store. The owner of the van, who also was the father of the little girl, told Trooper Sharp that the man behind the wheel wasn't planning to drive and should be left alone.
"I came up, and beer cans were falling all over the place, and he's so wasted he can't even stand up," the trooper yelled back at the man. "Does that look bad? And what is that sitting in the front seat?"
"A 3-year-old child," the father answered.
"And you don't think this should be investigated?"
The teen-agers on hand relished the drama.
"It's great," said Mike Novitske, 15, a sophomore at Glen Burnie High. "This educates you on just what the police are doing."
Trooper Sharp eventually pulled two cases of beer, an open bottle of vodka, marijuana seeds and suspected crack cocaine out of the van. He also found another man trying to hide in the back.
"It's like a brewery in there," said Mark Wentworth, 17, a junior at Glen Burnie High.
The officers arrested four people and turned the child over to his mother. Two people were charged, including the man who was sitting in the driver's seat.
"You are being charged with having an open container of alcohol and being dumb in public," Trooper Sharp told the man when they were in the cruiser.
"I will beat that charge," the man said in slurred words. "I will beat it."
Back at the station, the teens discussed the two-hour procedure they had just witnessed. A search of the van turned up a fake soda can with a screw top, which police say is commonly used to hide drugs. This one was empty, however.
"That can was something new," Mark said. "I've never seen that before. The only thing I know about police work comes from the show 'COPS.' "
Almost from the beginning of the students' night with the police, the action was fast. Just 15 minutes after leaving the Glen Burnie barracks, Trooper Sharp was cut off by a red Ford that sped onto a ramp from Ritchie Highway onto eastbound Route 100.
It took several minutes for the officer to catch up with the car. "We're doing 80, and he's pulling away from us," Trooper Sharp said while in pursuit.
The driver turned out to be a 16-year-old girl who had gotten her license just three months earlier. She was ticketed for doing 80 mph, a charge that carries two points and a $110 fine. "We probably could have had her doing 85, but she slowed down when she got into traffic," Trooper Sharp said.
Later in the evening, Gary Maples, 17, a sophomore at Meade High School, and Joe Bloom, 15, a sophomore at Glen Burnie High, were with a trooper who pulled over a weaving car on Ritchie Highway in Brooklyn Park and confiscated 3.2 ounces of PCP-treated parsley flakes.
"I didn't expect to get drugs or see an arrest," Gary said. "I thought we'd just be pulling people over."