monster beats wireless headphones recognition officers in wake of legalization
SEATTLE Seattle police DUI Officer Mike Lewis hears it all the time when he pulls over stoned drivers crawling along Interstate 5 at half the speed limit.
Initiative 502 legalized recreational marijuana use in Washington last year, but if drivers are too high to safely operate a vehicle, they still face a DUI charge.
Just as state law limits drivers to a .08 blood alcohol content, it limits them to 5 nanograms of THC, marijuana active ingredient, per milliliter of whole blood. Supreme Court ruled in April that officers must have a warrant to obtain blood samples.
Because many stops are made late at night, when judges aren available, officers must determine on the scene whether the driver is impaired.
Lewis and more than 200 other officers around the state have been trained to make that determination. As drug recognition experts, or they receive two weeks of instruction on picking out impaired drivers and analyzing their behavior for the presence of alcohol or drugs.
Since the program is administered on the state level, DRE officers can respond to DUI calls outside their jurisdiction and perform impaired driver examinations wherever they needed.
Different agencies policies vary on when a DRE is needed, but they always called to investigate major collisions, especially those involving fatalities, and any in which officers suspect drug involvement beyond alcohol.
Seattle police Officer Jon Huber, a regional DRE coordinator and instructor, likens each officer to a talking, drug testing machine. observations aid state prosecutors in DUI cases that often can be complicated. on a recent Friday, a call came over Lewis radio that a woman had sideswiped several cars on a residential street in Northwest Seattle. The driver told responding officers that she taken Risperdal, a prescription drug used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis.
The middle aged woman was sitting on a row of steps near the sidewalk when Lewis arrived. Her hands were shaking. She looked up at Lewis with wide eyes as he introduced himself and asked if she be willing to answer a series of questions.
Did she need to wear her glasses to drive? Yes.
Had she been wearing them when she hit the cars? Yes.
He brought up the Risperdal. Did she have any medical conditions he should be aware of?
She did: nervous condition. often did she take Risperdal? How much was she prescribed? When had she last taken it? When had she last eaten?
After she described what had happened, she agreed to take a sobriety test and trembled wildly as she attempted the various tasks.
She was clearly in no state to drive.
But it was her nervous condition that had caused the crash, not the Risperdal, Lewis determined. Her symptoms weren consistent with the drug effects as a central nervous system depressant. No DUI.
Other cases are more open and shut.
Later that night, officers on patrol spotted a car backing out of a driveway. As the driver saw them,
he stopped his car, opened the door and stumbled out sideways.
The man breath reeked of alcohol, and he hadn even been able to follow the questioning, the patrol officers told Lewis.
Swaying slightly on the front bumper of the patrol car, the man gave Lewis varying answers as to how much he had to drink, among them and obvious drunks like this is easy, Lewis said.
DRE is a nationwide program administered in Washington by the State Patrol. The state 230 DREs make up about 2 percent of its total police force, Huber said. Lewis is one of SPD 12 active duty drug recognition experts.
The program costs $3,000 per officer, funded by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, and 30 to 50 applicants are accepted per year, said Sgt. Ken Denton, who works in the impaired driving section of the Washington State Patrol.
The two week course, which is offered in the spring and fall, is rigorous and includes lectures, quizzes and comprehensive tests.
Before they get to the final evaluation, though, training officers must also perform six field sobriety tests and observe another six by their colleagues. They write reports for all 12 tests, which are reviewed and signed by an observing instructor.
After the course is completed, each officer must perform four evaluations in front of an instructor every two years to maintain DRE status.
face an array of challenges when they evaluating drivers impairment.
Many drivers lie about what they taken, how much and whether it prescribed to them. Analysis becomes even more complicated when drugs are mixed, as some symptoms of one drug can be mistaken for those of another.