Drug Recognition Experts and Traffic Stops
By Annette Dashofy
This evening’s class kicked off with a Power Point presentation by Officer Wolfe of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. Officer Wolfe is a Drug Recognition Expert in the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program, the purpose of which is to look for drivers impaired by substances other than alcohol. In this case, the term “drugs” may not necessarily be used in the medical sense. For example, airplane glue is considered a drug for this purpose.
To illustrate the importance of this work, one night during a weekend, 2% of drivers may test positive for alcohol. But 16% are impaired by drugs, either legal drugs or illegal ones. They are still “impaired.”
A DRE is a police officer who has been trained extensively in detecting and recognizing impairment caused by substances other than alcohol. The program was developed by the LAPD in the early 1970s. Officers there were encountering obviously impaired drivers with a Blood Alcohol of zero. These officers began to educate themselves to use diagnostic techniques. The NHTSA got on board with the program in the early 1980s and by 1987, Arizona, Colorado, New York, and Virginia had programs in operation.
Pennsylvania became involved in October 2004. By the time we had officers trained, the program was actually up and running in mid 2005. In the past 5 years, 77 Pennsylvania officers have been certified as DREs. DUI and drug arrests increased over 76%.
DRE training contains three phases with written exams in each. Phase III alone contains 100 hours of hands-on training in a rehab facility or jail. The final exam is 8 to 16 hours long with 5 separate sessions including essay type questions.
Drug Categories include:
Central Nervous System Depressants such as barbiturates, anti-anxiety tranquilizers, anti-depressant tranquilizers, and anti-psychotics.
(Note: the term “doctor shop” is used to refer to someone who goes to different doctors to get different drugs.)
Stimulants such as cocaine and crack, amphetamines, and meth.
Hallucigens (which distort the senses) such as LSD, Ecstasy, Peyote, Psilocybin.
Dissociative Anesthetics inhibit pain by cutting off or dissociating the brain’s perception of pain. They induce a state of sedation, immobility, amnesia, and analgesia. An example would be ketamine, which is used extensively in veterinary practices.
Narcotic analgesics (pain killers) are big in Pittsburgh and include heroin, morphine, codeine, dilaudid, Demerol, methadone (used for treatment of addition, this is a synthetic morphine that lasts for 24 hours), and oxycontin.
Inhalants would include airplane glue, paint, breathable substances, volatile solvents, aerosols, and anesthetic gases. These create a short term high and are very damaging to the brain because they cut off oxygen and cause brain death.
Finally, there is cannabis which includes marijuana and hashish. The effects of these can last up to 24 hours and will show up in blood tests for up to 10 days or urine tests for 30 days.
There is a standardized and systematic 12 step process the DRE uses. The evaluation checklist is similar to a standard medical diagnosis procedure. Toxicology results have confirmed over 90% of these evaluations.
The second part of the class was Traffic Stops. We were supposed to go outside and role-play, but thanks to a torrential downpour, we were stuck inside. However, Trooper Chris Callaghan and Findley Township Police Officer Mike Zacios provided an entertaining as well as educational program.
If you are stopped by a police officer what should you do?
First, STAY IN THE CAR. Second, keep your hands in plain sight. And put on the dome light.
In the case of a woman driving alone, it’s fine to put on your four-ways, get in the slow lane, and roll down your window to signal for the officer to follow. Then drive to a safe place to stop.
But do so at a safe speed. If you’re being busted for speeding, do NOT continue at 90MPH!
By the way, driving to a safe spot isn’t only beneficial to the woman. Traffic stops are notoriously dangerous for the police, and they prefer to make the stop in a safe location, as well.
PA State Troopers have onboard computers now, and the first thing they do when making a traffic stop is to punch your info into it. If anything were to happen to the officer, there is a record of who their last stop was. Also everything is audio-video recorded. Often an officer will hold your driver’s license in front of the camera to get a recording of it for their safety.
And if you’re pulled over and disagree with the reasoning, TAKE YOUR HEARING. Don’t debate it on the berm of the road. Your behavior can affect the result of your hearing, either good or bad.
And one last tip from Trooper Callaghan: keep reflective gear in your car at all times in case you get a flat after dark. This can save your life.
Next Wednesday: Crime Codes and Use of Force