Drugged driving is a growing public safety concern. According to the NHTSA, each year, as many as 16 percent of drivers pulled over during weekend nighttime—and 11 percent during weekend days—hours tested positive for drugs: illicit, over-the-counter, and prescription. Law enforcement officers are increasingly charged with being able to identify impaired drivers.
A drug recognition expert (DRE) is a law enforcement officer who is trained to recognize impairment in motorists caused by drugs and/or alcohol. In addition to police officers, the DEC Program also provides education to prosecutors and toxicologists on the actual DRE process.
The standardized International Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) Program is conducted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) with support from the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
History of the DEC Program
The DEC Program was founded by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in the early 1970s after law enforcement officials realized that a large number of people arrested for DUI had low or nonexistent alcohol concentrations. Whereas the officers realized that these motorists were under the influence of drugs instead of alcohol, the lack of knowledge and skills made prosecuting these cases difficult.
As a result, two LAPD sergeants sought input from doctors, other medical professionals, and psychologists to create a process for recognizing drug influence. This culminated in the first DRE program that the LAPD formally recognized in 1979.
In the 1980s, the NHTSA collaborated with the LAPD to create a standardized protocol, and the DEC Program was born based on the premise that properly trained law enforcement personnel could accurately and successfully identify drug impairment. Throughout the decade, other states jumped on board with their own DEC programs, and, today, every state and the District of Columbia—as well as other countries—participate in the program.
In 1992, the IACP created specifically the Drug Recognition Section, and starting in 1995, annual training conferences began being held for DREs, police officers, toxicologists, medical professionals, prosecutors, and other highway safety advocates.
This type of training is quite intensive and consists of three phases: a 16-hour pre-school, 56 hours of classroom training, and 40-60 hours of DRE field certification. Field certification requires participants to perform several evaluations on drug-impaired subjects as well as improving officers’ standardized field sobriety testing (SFST) skills
Another training option is the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) program that addresses the gap in training between the DEC Program and SFST training. This 16-hour “bridge” program provides participants with general knowledge about drug impairment and the important role of DREs in the fight against impaired driving.
Minnesota’s DEC Program
Run by the Minnesota Highway Patrol, the state’s DEC program trains officers across the state how to detect drug impairment and determine the class of drugs used, especially in motorists. This program began in 1991, and, today, there are 197 DRE officers in 92 state agencies.
In 2013, Minnesota revamped its DRE program training following misconduct allegations which purportedly occurred during the Occupy protests in Minneapolis’ Peavey Plaza earlier that year when an officer was videotaped offering drugs to protestors to get them to participate in the program which relies on impaired volunteers. Consequently, the DRE program was suspended during the investigation.
The program then relocated its field training to California to speed up the training process and avoid similar problems. Other changes to the program included increasing oversight, improving field supervision, and promoting better communication of rules and expectations.