By Chuck Hayes, IACP DEC Program Project Manager
The drug recognition expert’s (DRE) main focus is the detection and recognition of drug-impaired drivers. But DREs have used, and continue to use, their specialized training and skills to assist in many other areas of public safety. Many DREs are considered the drug experts in their communities and their agencies.
Since the program’s inception with the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1970s, police officers trained as DREs have shown that their drug recognition skills and training not only help them accurately identify drivers impaired by drugs and alcohol, but also enable them to serve as a valuable community resource as well. The following are some examples.
Police Chief Holds Drug Recognition Class for Parents
Several years ago in Avon, Colorado, the former police chief, who was also a DRE, taught parents how to recognize the symptoms of possible alcohol and drug use in their children.
The free class was designed to teach parents how to recognize signs and symptoms of drug influence associated with the following seven drug categories that are commonly abused by teenagers in America: CNS depressants (Soma, Valium, Diazepam, alcohol); CNS stimulants (cocaine, methamphetamine, Ritalin); hallucinogens (LSD, mushrooms, ecstasy); dissociative anesthetics (PCP, DXM, “Robo”); narcotic analgesics (heroin, Oxy, Demerol); inhalants (whippets, nitrous oxide, gas, glue, paint); and cannabis (marijuana, hash).
For more information on this program, please contact Chief Brian Kozak, who is now the chief of police in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
DREs in Oregon
In 1995, Oregon became the 24th state to enter the DEC Program. Positive results were immediate. Drug-impaired driving arrests in Oregon increased by 150 percent in the first five years; during the same period, drug- and alcohol-related traffic deaths declined. As valuable a tool as the DEC Program is for traffic safety, it didn’t take long for many law enforcement administrators, prosecutors, and others in public safety to recognize how effectively DREs detect drug impairment and identify evidence of drug abuse.
In Oregon and many other states, DREs assigned to patrol duties frequently use their training and skills in highway drug interdictions and related criminal investigations. A DRE’s ability to recognize evidence of drug abuse and use helps to establish probable cause for searches that can lead to drug seizures and criminal arrests. Many DUID arrests made by DREs also result in arrests for possession of drugs and help remove illegal drugs from the streets.
Because of the tendency of drug-impaired drivers to transport and possess illegal drugs, many DREs work closely with their local drug enforcement teams. DREs frequently supply drug enforcement officers with information that helps in major drug investigations.
DRE Helps Catch Addicted Pharmacist
Several years ago, an Oregon city police DRE helped a fellow officer investigate a suspicious activity complaint at a local pharmacy. The complaint alleged that the local pharmacist was injecting intravenous drugs while working at the pharmacy. The complainant had called an investigator at the California Board of Pharmacy, who then asked the local police department to investigate. The DRE responded to the pharmacy and spoke with the pharmacist. The DRE observed evidence consistent with drug influence. A consent search by the officers revealed several unlabeled prescription bottles of vicodin and a fresh injection mark on the inside of the pharmacist’s left arm.
With the assistance of the Oregon Board of Pharmacy, it was determined that the pharmacist had written more than 140 false prescriptions for more than 19,000 prescription drugs, including morphine, lorazepam, oxycodone, Xanax, Klonopin, vicodin, and OxyContin. The suspect pleaded guilty to charges of tampering with drug records and possessing a controlled substance.
DRE Partnerships Make Roadways Safer
In several state departments of transportation (DOT), enforcement members are trained as DREs. Several years ago, this training recently paid off in Iowa, where a DOT-trained DRE stopped a semi truck and noted signs of drug impairment in the driver. A search resulted in the seizure of 12 duffel bags of marijuana. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Department of Justice, continued the investigation and arrested three additional persons in Detroit, Michigan, who were linked to the crime.
DREs also work in partnership with DOT commercial vehicle inspectors in Operation Trucker Check projects. The DREs conduct inspections of the commercial vehicle drivers as they enter checkpoints and the vehicle inspectors conduct inspections of the tractor and trailer. During these inspections officers have identified fatigued or impaired drivers and detected equipment, licensing, and logbook violations.
One major combined trucker check operation involving DREs and commercial vehicle inspectors from California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia inspected trucks and their drivers resulted in officers inspecting over 3,600 commercial vehicles (tractor-trailers and single-unit trucks) and their drivers during the operation. They placed 918 vehicles and 292 drivers out of service for various violations and issued 2,055 citations, mostly for equipment, logbook, and excessive hours violations. Six drivers were charged with driving under the influence of drugs. One driver arrested in Oregon was charged with possession of controlled substances (methamphetamine and marijuana), an open container of alcohol, and possession of an illegal weapon after DREs found two concealed weapons (a modified saw-off shotgun and weighted leather sap) in the vehicle.
DREs in Schools
DREs throughout the country are also working closely with their local schools and school districts to deter drug use and abuse in the schools. Many DREs are now training school administrators, teachers, and nurses to identify drug abuse and impairment through the Drug Impairment Training for Education Professionals (DITEP) program. This training has helped build a solid partnership between law enforcement and schools aimed at reducing drug abuse and related crime in the schools. More details about this training are available on the DITEP page on this Web site.
The scope of the DEC Program has expanded greatly since its inception in the 1970s. The improvements and advancement of the program can be directly attributed to the many professionals involved in the program, from the administration at the IACP, to the technical and financial support from NHTSA, to the DREs working the streets. Because of this dedication and support, the DRE program has quickly become a valuable resource for public safety and the communities we serve.