Cops trained to spot drivers on drugs
AVON ” The night after Independence Day, Avon police Officer Mike Lundblade stopped a woman driver and thought she might be on drugs.
Lundblade gave the woman sobriety tests, and the woman denied using drugs, but her behavior made him suspicious, he said. So Lundblade asked Chief Brian Kozak for help.
Kozak, a certified “drug recognition expert,” checked the woman’s pulse, blood pressure and how her pupils responded to light, and he determined she had smoked methamphetamine at least eight hours before she was pulled over, he said.
The woman was arrested for driving under the influence of methamphetamine, something she might have been released on before Kozak arrived from the Mesa, Arizona’s police department, he said
Kozak was certified as a drug recognition expert in 1993 in Mesa. After certification, Kozak’s arrests for driving under the influence of drugs dramatically increased, meaning several people didn’t get away with driving high, he said.
The program started with two officers in Los Angeles who assembled medical research to determine what causes driver impairment. The program later was validated by the Southern California Research Institute, Kozak said.
The institute studies human performance, psychomotor behavior, and cognitive skills as they are affected by pharmacological, physical, and psycho-social variables, according to the groups Web site.
“Police were frustrated because they couldn’t say in court what was causing the impairment,” Kozak said.
Kozak has trained officers across the country and said he plans to teach all his officers basic recognition techniques and get two officers certified. The Vail Police Department and Colorado State Patrol are the only other law enforcement agencies in the valley that have drug recognition experts.
Still, some people think the drug recognition evidence isn’t totally foolproof.
The drug recognition program has limitations, Denver criminal attorney Abe Hutt said.
“It’s like a lot of other things with police work,” Hutt said. “It comes down to the individual, what they know, what the training is and how good is he or she at exercising in the field what the training is.”
The biggest problem with drug enforcement experts is incorrectly trained officers, Hutt said.
The intention of drug recognition experts is to evaluate an individual and couple the evaluation with the findings of urine or blood samples, rather than the officer assuming the role of an expert before a jury. Originally, people with the drug recognition training were called evaluators, but the title was changed to experts to impress juries, Hutt said.
“It makes someone sound like they’re a doctor, but that’s not really what it is,” Hutt said. “
At the police station, a recognition expert will check the blood pressure, pulse and the eyes of a person suspected of being on drugs. The expert can then determine if a person has ingested stimulants, depressants, inhalants, PCP, narcotics, cannabis or hallucinogens.
The most important test is the eye’s reaction to light, Kozak said. A dilated pupil might mean the person used methamphetamine while a constricted pupil might point to PCP.
“The eyes are the window to the soul,” Kozak said.
Physical signs also help in drug recognition. Burns on the tongue, lips or fingers might signify inhaling hot methamphetamine smoke and handling a hot glass pipe, Kozak said.
Snorting cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin might cause a red, irritated nose or a deviated septum, which is the wall separating the nostrils.
In court, the drug recognition tests support blood and urine samples, which can be refuted, Kozak said. If a driver refuses to give blood or urine samples, the drug recognition test can stand alone in court as proof of impairment, Kozak said.
Kozak has performed 410 drug recognition tests during his career and he said he’s been 93 percent accurate in determining the type of drug a person used.
The test can also differentiate between drug use and medical problems. In Mesa, Kozak helped determine that a man thought to be high was actually diabetic and low on sugar, Kozak said.
In another situation, doctors misdiagnosed a man who had been brought to the hospital after fighting with police. Doctors said the man used methamphetamine, but Kozak corrected the doctors before they treated the man, who had taken PCP.
One doctor asked Kozak back to train emergency personnel about drug recognition, Kozak said.
Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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