Bennett FlagThe definition of a Drug Recognition Expert is a law-enforcement officer trained to recognize impairment in drivers under the influence of drugs other than, or in addition to, alcohol. The DRE program was originated by the Los Angeles Police Department in the early 1970s but for decades there were very few at other departments across the nation. This is not the case today.

“I got the inspiration to be a DRE when I noticed officers didn’t know how to deal with subjects they thought to be impaired, but the subject would register 0.00 on the blood-alcohol breath test,” said Officer Jamar Bennett. “The officer didn’t know how to proceed with making an arrest or releasing the subject. I set out to find a way that I can contribute and not let these subjects drive down the road where they could end up killing or injuring someone.”

“I wanted to prevent that from happening, so I started researching the DRE program. I wanted to get involved with it and make a difference,” he add.

Bennett became a certified DRE for the Benton Police Department in 2005. The department today has six certified DRE officers and another officer going through the candidate process. Bennett said there are certain qualities the department looks at when considering an officer for the DRE program, and the training is intense and extensive. He said officers who have a “firm standardized field sobriety test in the background is crucial.”

“When you’re going through the DRE program you don't have time to go back and teach them how to do field sobriety test because that's the core of the program,” Bennett said. “We try to pick officers who have a drive to go out and seek out those impaired drivers. We also look and see how many DWI arrests or stops they've made with successful completion of the standardized field sobriety test.”

An officer selected for the program typically spends three weeks and 80 hours of training. The training a DRE candidate learns includes, but is not limited to, conducting a preliminary examination to determine whether the subject may be suffering from an injury or other condition unrelated to drugs, giving an eye examination, examination of muscle tone, how to conduct psychophysical tests, and even how to give dark room examinations to estimate the subject’s pupil sizes.

“We start teaching them pharmacology and physiology and different things like that,” Bennett said. “The next week, if they passed the preschool portion of it, they're invited to come back and we start getting into the 12 step process. There is a classroom portion of it and then there is a field portion as well.”

“It’s a tough and rigorous program. It's extremely hard because with traditional law enforcement courses there is not a lot of testing and not a lot of studying with the exception of a few programs. In this program the officer has to do a lot of studying during their off-time, because each day we have a test.”

Bennett said the DRE program has been evaluated from prosecutors and even doctors. He said a doctor evaluating the program told him, “its equivalent to a semester of medical school.”

“It is tough because you have to learn and memorize all of the different drugs in the various categories, and you have to know the pharmaceutical name of it as well as the street name,” Bennett said. “You have to know how the different drugs affect the body, and more. And some people don't just use one drug … different drugs affect the body in different ways, so they have to know how one drug affects the body as well as how the additional drug affects the body.”

How important is a DRE certified officer important to not only the department, but to the community?

“It's very important having a DRE on the streets, especially in suspected DWI traffic stop,” Bennett said. “Someone may show no alcohol, but is there something else mimicking the effects of alcohol or causing intoxication? So, it's useful because you're not letting someone go down the road that's impaired.”

He said the DRE trained officers are important for negligent homicide investigations, such as at the scene of a motor vehicle crash. If someone claims they had drugs in their system from previous days, a DRE certified officer can determine if that driver is impaired at the scene.

“A DRE officer is also useful for people that may have a medical condition, such as if they are having a diabetic episode which the officer may perceive to be alcohol or drug impairment,” Bennett said. “The DRE officer is trained to recognize a diabetic episode and to get them treatment if necessary.”

Bennett said unfortunately, there has been a rise in people driving while under the influence of an intoxicant other than alcohol. He said when he first became a DRE officer, the trend was illicit drug use, such as marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

“Now there's an uptick of people that are driving under the influence of prescription medications and those are harder to detect and it takes a trained eye to detect that impairment,” Bennett said. “And there are people driving under the influence of things people may not consider drugs such as compressed air duster, paint thinners, whipped cream cans or even huffing gasoline. Some people will take anything to get high, so there's an uptick in that and there's been an uptick in prescription drug use as well. DRE officers have to stay on top of the going trends.”

He said over-the-counter medicines can also be “very dangerous” when taken in high doses. Bennett said that the medicines with dextromethorphan (cough medications) when taken in extremely high doses can mimic the effects of PCP. He also said there is also a rise in heroin use in the nation, including here in Central Arkansas.

“In the DRE world, we say any substance that taken into the human body that can affect the person’s ability to operate a vehicle is impairment/intoxication,” Bennett said. “Even caffeine. When you start taking an overabundance of caffeine into the body it starts to mimic the effects of cocaine, methamphetamine and things like that, so yes it can have the ability to impair the person, especially if they are operating a vehicle.”

Though Bennett trains officers to become DRE certified, he said there are many things parents can do in their own homes to test for intoxication of their loved ones.

“Parents need to take note if they observe their children behaving differently than normal then start looking at different indicators that they might be taking something,” he said. “You may start noticing odors or you may notice a change in their behavior but no odor, or you may start noticing something different about their eyes.”

“One of the things that I preach and teach is to look at someone in their eyes, whether it’s dilated pupils or constricted pupils. Pin point pupils may be indicators of narcotic analgesics such as hydrocodone or oxycodone; also in this family is heroin. Whereas there are other drug categories that cause your pupils to dilate so they'll be extremely large, or the blood vessels are in large doses which comes from Marijuana use. A parent ought to be able to notice a difference in their child's eyes.”

To report suspicious driving and/or accidents, call the Benton Police Department at 501-778-1171 or 501-315-TIPS. Individuals also may send us anonymous information to CRIMES (274637) with the keyword BNPD in the body of the text or go to www.crimereports.com to leave a tip. A crime tip can also be submitted via the official Benton Police Department app found on ITunes and Google Play.

Officers with the Benton Police Department are continuing the “Be Someone’s Sweetheart and Rethink Your Drink” initiative this month to keep intoxicated drivers off the city streets.

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