EAGLE COUNTY — While two dozen police officers were downstairs in an Avon hotel learning drug recognition techniques, a doctor was upstairs performing medical marijuana exams and selling cards.
The irony was lost on no one, especially the 24 officers from around state working through Drug Recognition Expert training.
It was also lost on no one that this was the first Drug Recognition Expert training since Colorado voters legalized marijuana.
“It has always been relevant, and it’s more relevant now that Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana,” said Bob Ticer, Avon police chief and one of the instructors.
The local officers join 183 other Drug Recognition Experts in Colorado, trained to recognize impairment in drivers and what is impairing them, narcotics as well as alcohol. By the time they graduated Thursday afternoon, officers could recognize the effects of seven drug categories, and how people react under the influence of those drugs. Officers also learned to administer evaluations and complete the reporting.
“It gives officers training about drugs they’ll be encountering, and the process to identify those drugs,” Ticer said. “It’s an international program that standardizes this everywhere.”
Ticer went through the training in 1992. He said the basics haven’t changed much.
“We were talking about the same things then that we are now. The difference is that we have another legal substance to deal with,” Ticer said. “However, the substance we still combat the most is the most legal — alcohol.”
From 2010 to 2011, Colorado saw a 15 percent increase in drivers of fatal crashes who tested positive for drugs, said Glenn Davis, the Department of Transportation’s highway safety manager and former Drug Recognition Expert. The Department of Transportation picked up the tab for the training, with support from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
LAPD started it
Drug Recognition Expert training originated with the Los Angeles Police Department in the early 1970’s when officers noticed that many people arrested for impaired driving had low or zero blood alcohol concentrations. The officers suspected that the motorists were under the influence of drugs, but didn’t know how to prove it.
Two LAPD sergeants partnered with medical doctors, research psychologists and other medical professionals to develop the 12-step evaluation of an impaired motorist’s physical, mental and medical condition.
“Officers can already tell if someone is impaired. With this training they can tell with very high accuracy what substance motorists are influenced by,” Davis said.
Different drugs create different symptoms, said Craig Simpson, a Drug Recognition Expert instructor in Avon for this session.
“Can the driver focus? Can he or she split their focus? Is he giggling during a traffic stop? Juries have to be convinced of what it means to be impaired, and that impaired drivers are dangerous,” Simpson said.
“No one is arrested for having drugs in their system. People are arrested based on their behaviors,” Davis said.
If you’re pulled over and the officer thinks you’re impaired, you’ll likely get to go to the police station or some other location and take a different set of tests. They’ll determine if you’re impaired, on what and how much.
Davis said the Department of Transportation’s goal is to have 300 Drug Recognition Experts in Colorado by 2015.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935, and firstname.lastname@example.org