Michigan doubles number of Drug Recognition Experts

Fourteen law enforcement officers and five prosecutors completed an intense Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) course to enhance their ability to detect and better prosecute drivers suspected to be under the influence of drugs.

DREs are trained to recognize signs of impairment in drivers under the influence of drugs other than, or in addition to, alcohol and to identify the category or categories of drugs causing the impairment. DREs conduct a 12- step evaluation process to make the determination.

Last year, 15 officers and four prosecutors went through the DRE training; prior to this class, Michigan had only three DREs statewide.

“The addition of more specially trained DRE officers and prosecutors will enhance efforts to reduce all types of impaired driving on our roadways,” said Michael L. Prince, Office of Highway Safety Planning director. “DREs are assets to their communities and improve traffic safety through their knowledge of the signs, symptoms and effects of drug use.”

Although Michigan has experienced a decrease in alcohol-related crashes, fatalities and arrests, it has noted an increase in drug involvement in traffic crashes and injuries. In 2010, drugs accounted for an additional 64 injuries and 99 crashes compared to 2009. In 2010, drug-involved fatalities increased by 30 percent with 74 people killed in crashes involving drugs. Some of that increase can be attributed to expanded testing requests.

Nationally, 18 percent of all drivers killed in crashes in 2009 tested positive for drugs, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The first two phases of the course took place Jan. 17 to 27 at the Michigan State Police Training Academy in Lansing, with the third phase occurring Feb. 27 to March 3 at the Maricopa County Jail in Arizona.

The Arizona facility processes an average of 900 inmates per day which provided officers the opportunity to conduct hands-on drug evaluations on volunteer subjects, a requirement of the course.

The DRE program, also referred to as the Drug Evaluation Classification program, began in the 1970s with the Los Angeles Police Department. The program operates under the guidelines and direction of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and is supported and funded by NHTSA, with each state using its own federal funding for its participants.