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The Dr./DRE debate
February 23, 2022 By David Berez
The Dr./DRE debate is not questioning the popularity of one of the greatest rap artists of all time, but rather the perspective that the methodology of a DRE (Drug Recognition Expert) is or isn’t reliable science. Recently, some states have created legislation legalizing the use of recreational marijuana. Other states that have already gone down this path have seen a significant increase in traffic crashes and traffic fatalities. After all, driving under the influence (DUI) is not just an alcohol problem. As for the practical consequences, one in 10 impaired drivers involved in a crash test positive for THC metabolites.
The Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) Program, where a police officer gets certified as a DRE, is recognized science throughout the world and most of the U.S. New Jersey is one of the few exceptions where it is still being debated. The program started in California; developed by LAPD officers in the early 70s, adopted by the agency in ‘79 and recognized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the 80s. The program was then evaluated by many scientific measures and validated through three studies; Bigelow 1985 (the Johns Hopkins study), Compton 1986 (the LAPD-173 study), and Adler 1994 (the Arizona DRE Validation Study).
All DRE students are certified by the International Association of Chiefs of Police before they can conduct evaluations. While the DRE program has been in NJ since the early 90s and there are now close to 600 active DREs in the state, there is still no case law or legislation authorizing the program.
The NJ state legislature has been hard at work to draft a bill, but no sooner than the pen hitting the paper, the internal debates began halting any progress. Some of the issues that popped up were “How much can we tax it?” and “Who gets the money?”. The one obvious concern was, “How do we protect ourselves from a deluge of impaired drivers?”
DREs are not doctors … they are Dedicated experts, trained to recognize and evaluate drug impaired drivers.
The legalization of marijuana is now here to stay in NJ and the DEC Program and DRE Officers will be more important than ever. The program science is reliable, and the officer training is second to none. I will admit, officers are human (not robotic) and they are fallible. Then again, so are doctors and lawyers. The difference is: the officer that graduates the DEC Program comes to it with a set of experiences and training unique to the position unlike any other professional. Many are EMT’s, paramedics, or pharmacy technicians. Combine those experiences with the 12-hour pre-school, 72 hours of classroom training, the final knowledge exam, countless supervised evaluations and the ongoing recertifications to maintain the status as a DRE. The caveat is that the evaluation process must be conducted as prescribed.
The DRE evaluation is a standardized and systematic, 12-step process that recognizes biological, physiological and behavioral responses from the effect of an intoxicant introduced into the human body. The program recognizes seven categories of drugs, and the DRE must identify through the 12-step process if the individual is impaired, by what category or categories that impairment is caused and is the individual safe to operate a motor vehicle. At this time, there is no test similar to the breath test for alcohol for other intoxicants; therefore, we must rely on the training and experience of a DRE to make a scientifically reliable evaluation and offer an expert opinion to prosecute impaired drivers that are impaired by substances other than alcohol. Without the court’s recognition of these experts, there will be no accountability for drugged drivers on the roadways.
As a certified DRE, I believe in the program and I believe that it should become universally recognized as part of forthcoming legislation. Experts like myself can assist lawyers who are defending clients accused of impaired driving to evaluate the situation and make sure the science is being followed, standardized and systematic, just as prescribed. An independent look at the DRE report will strengthen the validity of an already great practitioner and will call out the ones that could cloud the program.
The critics will continue to argue that because a DRE is not a doctor, the program is “junk science”. This could not be any more short-sighted. A DRE is not making a medical diagnosis, but rather forming an expert opinion based on training and experience to be used as state’s evidence for prosecution. DREs are not doctors and don’t need to be; they are dedicated experts, trained to recognize and evaluate drug impaired drivers. Always remember, drive safe, drive sober!
David Berez is a retired Police Officer and DRE, having served more than 20 years with the East Windsor Police Department and a total of 30 years in Emergency Services. Following his retirement, Berez is now the President and Founder of Six4 Consultants, a Public Safety Consulting Firm. In September of 2020, Berez was trained as a Resiliency Program Officer. Contact: David@Six4Consultants.com.
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