Police receive specialized training to combat drugged driving

SCITUATE, R.I. (WPRI) – State and local police are trying to combat a disturbing new trend of drugged driving by adding drug recognition experts – a select group of officers highly trained to recognize all signs of impairment.

Drug recognition experts – or DRE’s – undergo 80 hours of training in the classroom and 40 hours of training in the field. After that’s complete, they have to pass a six hour comprehensive exam, according to state police officials.

Rhode Island State Police DRE’s are usually called in after a person gets pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence, but the initial field sobriety test doesn’t reveal evidence of significant alcohol use.

The DRE on duty responds to the scene or meets the suspect at the barracks to conduct a more thorough exam.

John Gadrow is one of seven troopers who is a certified drug recognition expert, and he’s in charge of the state police program. He said they send all DRE students to Maricopa County Jail in Arizona for training.

“At that central facility we have the ability to interview the detainees and we get a broader spectrum of drugs than we would if we just worked here,” Gadrow said.

In Rhode Island troopers see a lot of marijuana, cocaine and heroin. Out west there’s also crystal meth, MDMA, Molly and PCP, according to Gadrow.

Rhode Island State Police is one of several law enforcement agencies across North America that send trainees to Phoenix.

“We’re lucky that they allow us to do that,” said Gadrow. “We have classes from Rhode Island there, classes from Massachusetts there, classes from California there [even] classes from Canada come down.”

One of the most important things that they learn is how to conduct a 12-step evaluation process which includes examining blood pressure, pupil measurement, body temperature, and looking for tremors and track marks.

“We do a detailed eye examination; the eyes are the window to the soul, right?” Gadrow said.  “For example stimulants normally dilate the eye, where heroin constricts the eye when it makes your pupil almost like pinpoints.”

“Drastic differences there,” he added.

Other steps include an examination for muscle tone and “divided attention psychophysical tests,” which are similar to roadside sobriety exams.

The suspect is also asked to agree to a blood test.

In just the past few months incidents of drugged driving have been reported in Richmond, New Bedford and Portsmouth.

Gadrow has seen more than one incident firsthand. He said he was driving on Route 4 when he spotted a car swerving “all over the road,” and he pulled it over.

“Upon contact I saw a male operator with his sleeved rolled up… and a needle in his arm,” Gadrow said. “[He was] actively injecting heroin while driving.”

In 2015 state police made 513 DUI arrests, 66 percent of those suspects were convicted. State Police say this is, in part, due to cases that have been expunged, sealed or are still pending.

Driving under the influence includes alcohol or drug impairment – or both.