Sgt. Locke named drug recognition expert

LEFT: Sgt. Paul Locke sports a pin for his recent certification as a drug recognition expert. “A little pin, but it took a long time to get,” he said. (Photo by Courtney Lamdin)

With drugged driving on the rise, Vermont just graduated its largest class of drug recognition experts since 2005, Milton’s Sgt. Paul Locke among them, the first in the department’s history to earn the certification.

The state now has 53 DREs statewide, up from 38. Supported by federal highway safety funds, the program trains officers to detect drivers under the influence of drugs besides alcohol.

About half of fatal crashes in Vermont this year to date involved drugs, alcohol or both, according to Vermont State Police. That, plus the gaps in DRE coverage statewide, led to the program’s increased enrollment this year, said VSP Lt. John Flannigan, the state’s drug evaluation and classification coordinator.

And not just any officer can get in. They must first take the Vermont Police Academy’s Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement course, be nominated by their supervisor and their county’s state’s attorney and pass oral boards.

Locke completed ARIDE in February and submitted a letter of intent when the latest course opened up. Recognized by the Vt. Governor’s Highway Safety Program for DUI enforcement early in his career, Locke wanted to increase his skills after spending years in a detective suit.

“Unless the officer is trained to know what to look for, they’re letting people go,” Locke said of basic training’s emphasis on drunk driving enforcement.

“Knowing what I know now, I should have done more back then,” he added. “All those four, five, six people I let go, who now I believe were under the influence, unfortunately could have hurt somebody because I didn’t know the difference.”

DREs use an internationally adopted, 12-step protocol that’s initiated when patrol officers believe a driver is impaired but there’s no sign of alcohol. In Vermont, the officer calls VSP to dispatch a DRE to the scene. Locke’s region encompasses Chittenden, Franklin and Lamoille counties.

They then check the operator’s pupil size, dexterity, muscle tone, vital signs and more before making a determination if he or she is impaired. Police can then arrest the suspect and request a blood test, just as with a standard DUI. The evaluation can take up to an hour, Locke said.

Sgt. Paul Locke, Milton police’s first DRE, is pictured in his office last week. (Photo by Courtney Lamdin)

Locke thinks the course is more important now that Vermont is on a path to legalize marijuana.

After vetoing a bill last session, Gov. Phil Scott charged a Marijuana Advisory Commission to report on highway safety and cannabis, especially since there’s no nationally adopted “roadside test” to detect a driver’s level of impairment on pot.

Cannabis is one of seven types of drugs DREs learn to detect. Others include depressants like Xanax, Valium and even Prozac; stimulants such as crack cocaine and methamphetamine; narcotics like heroin and OxyContin; dissociative drugs such as PCP; and hallucinogens and inhalants.

For two weeks, Locke took courses at a South Burlington hotel, eating and sleeping there and staying up all night studying for exams. He and the 14 other candidates then completed field training at Maricopa County Jail in Phoenix, Ariz., where arrestees who used drugs within 24 hours consented to be evaluated by DREs in training.

“Things are a little bit different than they are here,” Locke reflected, noting his first subject was high on meth, coke, heroin and pot. “It was an eye-opener that, wow, there are a lot of drugs out there, but it also makes you wonder how much of that is up here that we’re not seeing.”

And sometimes, it may turn out the driver is not impaired at all – or his or her impairment is from legally prescribed medication or stems from a medical condition.

As such, Locke sees DREs as neutral parties who can both aid an officer in establishing probable cause and support drivers who say they’re not impaired. His first and only callout since his certification on September 29 made this very conclusion.

“I really have no dog in the fight; I’m just there to give my opinion,” Locke said.

Flannigan rebutted criticism that DRE protocol is subjective “junk science,” saying Vermont courts have widely accepted DRE evidence.

“[That’s] not to say there hasn’t been some rulings that have been negative, but I think by far and large, there’s been rulings throughout the country that have been positive that the DRE program uses those valid principles,” he said.

Sgt. Paul Locke displays a pupillometer, one tool drug recognition experts use to determine which drugs a suspect has ingested. (Photo by Courtney Lamdin)

Locke plans to pass down his DRE training and thinks it will give Milton another tool besides its K9, Hatchi, to aid other agencies in drug enforcement.

“In the past, we’ve always depended on other agencies to help us,” he said. “Now it’s time for us to give back because we have that experience.”

It’s one Flannigan thinks was well-earned, saying DRE certification is “grueling … probably one of the most difficult law enforcement trainings offered in a police officer’s career.”

Flannigan said there’s a constant need to educate the public about impaired driving, and having more DREs can only help.

“People have been hearing for decades to not drink and drive, but clearly prescriptions can impact a person’s ability to operate a vehicle,” he said. “We’ve got to get that message out there more.”

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  • Brian Kelly

    It’s time for us, the majority of The People to take back control of our national marijuana policy. By voting OUT of office any and all politicians who very publicly and vocally admit to having an anti-marijuana, prohibitionist agenda! Time to vote’em all OUT of office. Period. Plain and simple.

    Politicians who continue to demonize Marijuana, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Marijuana possession rather than solve real crimes who fund their departments toys and salaries with monies acquired through Marijuana home raids, seizures and forfeitures, and so-called “Addiction Specialists” who make their income off of the judicial misfortunes of our citizens who choose marijuana, – Your actions go against The Will of The People and Your Days In Office Are Numbered! Find new careers before you don’t have one.

    The People have spoken! Get on-board with Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, or be left behind and find new careers. Your choice.

    Legalize Nationwide!

  • Brian Kelly

    Legalizing Marijuana will not create a massive influx of marijuana impaired drivers on our roads.

    It will not create an influx of professionals (doctors, pilots, bus drivers, etc..) under the influence on the job either.

    This is a prohibitionist propaganda scare tactic.

    Truth: Responsible drivers don’t drive while impaired on any substance period!

    Irresponsible drivers are already on our roads, and they will drive while impaired regardless of their drug of choice’s legality.

    Therefore, legalizing marijuana will have little impact on the amount of marijuana impaired drivers on our roads.

    The same thing applies to people being under the influence of marijuana on the job.

    Responsible people do not go to work impaired, period. Regardless of their drug of choice’s legality.

    • EthanRogati

      Too bad we seem to have a shortage of responsible people.

      • Brian Kelly

        I also stated:
        “Irresponsible drivers are already on our roads, and they will drive
        while impaired regardless of their drug of choice’s legality.”

        Understand yet?

        • EthanRogati

          No. Sorry.

  • Brian Kelly

    Fear of Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is unfounded. Not based on any science or fact whatsoever. So please prohibitionists, we beg you to give your scare tactics, “Conspiracy Theories” and “Doomsday Scenarios” over the inevitable Legalization of Marijuana Nationwide a rest. Nobody is buying them anymore these days. Okay?

    Furthermore, if all prohibitionists get when they look into that nice, big and shiny crystal ball of theirs, while wondering about the future of marijuana legalization, is horror, doom, and despair, well then I suggest they return that thing as quickly as possible and reclaim the money they shelled out for it, since it’s obviously defective.

    The prohibition of marijuana has not decreased the supply nor the demand for marijuana at all. Not one single iota, and it never will. Just a huge and complete waste of our tax dollars to continue criminalizing citizens for choosing a natural, non-toxic, relatively benign plant proven to be much safer than alcohol.

    If prohibitionists are going to take it upon themselves to worry about “saving us all” from ourselves, then they need to start with the drug that causes more detriment to our society than every other drug in the world COMBINED, which is alcohol!

    Why do prohibitionists feel the continued need to vilify and demonize marijuana when they could more wisely focus their efforts on a real, proven killer, alcohol, which again causes more detriment to our society than all other drugs, COMBINED?

    Prohibitionists really should get their priorities straight and/or practice a little live and let live. They’ll live longer, happier, and healthier lives, with a lot less stress if they refrain from being bent on trying to control others through Draconian Marijuana Laws.

  • Michael Milburn

    No one should drive impaired, but actual impairment should be measured. I have developed a new public health app that measures actual impairment–it is called DRUID (an acronym for “DRiving Under the Influence of Drugs”) available now in the Apple App Store (Android version coming soon). DRUID measures reaction time, decision making, hand-eye coordination, time estimation and balance, and then statistically integrates hundreds of data points into an overall impairment score. DRUID takes just 2 minutes.

    Our website is http://www.druidapp.com

    DRUID allows cannabis users (or others who drink alcohol, use prescription drugs, etc.) to self-assess their own level of impairment and (hopefully) decide against driving if they are impaired. Prior to DRUID, there was no way for an individual to accurately assess their own level of impairment. DRUID also demonstrates that it is feasible to measure impairment reliably by the roadside, not just exposure to a drug. It could also be a way for cannabis users who have developed tolerance to show they are unimpaired.

    DRUID was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered: http://www.npr.org/2017/01/25/511595978/can-sobriety-tests-weed-out-drivers-whove-smoked-too-much-weed

    Also on television: http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2017/02/28/science-lags-behind-marijuana-impairment-testing/

    After obtaining my Ph.D. at Harvard, I have been a professor of psychology at UMass/Boston for the past 40 years, specializing in research methods, measurement and statistics.

    Michael Milburn, Professor
    Department of Psychology
    UMass/Boston