Police to train more drug recognition officers before marijuana legalized

The Waterloo Regional Police Service plans to strengthen its contingent of drug recognition officers as it anticipates the legalization of marijuana in 2018.

According to a report to the police services board, the traffic services branch intends to certify two additional officers as drug recognition evaluators in the new year, which will “ensure we have sufficient capacity to address any significant increases that may occur as a result of cannabis legalization.”

Drug recognition evaluators — also known as DRE officers — are police officers who are trained to test drivers for drug impairment.

If a driver fails a roadside test, he or she is arrested and brought to a DRE officer for further testing. If the DRE officer finds there is sufficient evidence of drug impairment, the driver will be charged with impaired driving.

So far this year, DRE officers have completed 36 tests and have concluded that in 30 cases there was sufficient evidence to lay an impaired by drug charge.

Learning curve

But the number of successful investigations has not always been so high. When the police service began its drug recognition evaluator program in 2012, 20 incidents turned out to have insufficient evidence to lay a charge, and only 18 incidence had sufficient evidence.

“Because it was a fairly new science, the officers were relatively new at recognizing the symptoms of the drug impairment,” said Staff Sgt. Mike Hinsberger.

“As a result, a lot of the tests they did they just couldn’t make a conclusive determination of impairment.”

Since then, Hinsberger says the DRE officers have received improved training and have gained more experience dealing with drug impairment investigations. As a result the number of incidents with sufficient evidence has been on the rise.

“The comfort level of the officers doing the testing has certainly improved a lot and, as a result, their conclusions have been a lot more definitive with respect to the ability to recognize impaired driver by drug.”

Preparing for marijuana legislation

Currently, the Waterloo Regional Police Service has 10 officers trained as DRE officers, with plans to train two more officers in 2018.

Although the traffic services branch report does say the addition of two officers will satisfy any increased need for capacity arising from the legalization of marijuana, it also mentions that “it is difficult to predict the optimal number of DRE officers that will be required.”

The report said more DRE officers may be needed in response to the legalization of marijuana as:

  • DRE officers spend an increasing amount of time in court, as they will be called to testify as expert witnesses.
  • DRE officers spend more time preparing blood warrants and production orders relating to the investigation of collisions.

It costs regional police $2,500 to have an officer certified as a drug recognition evaluator, with the first half of the training taking place at the Ontario Police College and the second half taking place in Jacksonville, Florida.

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