MILTON — In what he said was a complete surprise, Sergeant Paul Locke was named the 2020 Drug Recognition Expert of the Year by the Vermont Agency of Transportation on April 1.
During a video presentation, AOT Secretary Joe Flynn said the award is given annually to a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) who demonstrates a commitment to education, enforcement and community engagement to help decrease incidents of impaired driving.
“The award is presented to Sergeant Locke in recognition of his efforts and commitment to serving as a DRE in Vermont,” Flynn said. “Through these efforts, he has helped make our roads safer for all users.”
When a patrol officer believes a driver may be impaired by a drug other than alcohol, a DRE is dispatched to the scene to do an internationally-adopted 12-step evaluation.
“If we believe the person is impaired, we try to determine if it's medical-related or if it's drug-related,” Locke said. “It’s our job to be an independent, unbiased source who can come in and do an evaluation.”
Locke became a DRE in 2017, after he stepped down as a detective and was promoted to a sergeant within the Milton Police Department. DRE certification isn't just handed out to anyone. It’s a detailed and many-stepped process.
Officers must pass 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 exams.
“Since I first became an officer, this was something I wanted to do,” Locke said. “I've always been interested in DUI work or impaired driving work and how that affects the community. Education and enforcement are steps for me to give back to the community and to keep the roads safe.”
Locke conducts evaluations right here in Milton, but is sometimes called to other towns in Chittenden or Franklin counties. In Vermont, there are approximately 50 other DREs, including Milton’s Officer Richard Corbin.
Since becoming a DRE, Locke has conducted more than 100 drug-influence evaluations. Over the last four years, he said he’s seen the number of impaired drivers rise and is now often dispatched for examinations once or twice a week.
“We're starting to see more,” he said. “Just the other day the department was going over our stats for DUIs, and we're seeing more and more drug-related ones compared to alcohol.”
In his announcement of Locke’s award, Secretary Flynn also commended Locke for his commitment to education, which is exemplified by his teaching of Motor Vehicle Law at the Vermont Police Academy, driver’s education at Milton High School and DRE skills at the Milton Police Department.