DRE Program – Qualifications for Drug Recognition Expert

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The standards in this section specify the criteria that must be met prior to an individual being certified as a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). These criteria outline the knowledge and skills required to be considered for training, as well as the knowledge and proficiencies required for final certification.

The currently approved curriculum involves a three-phase training process. Prior to beginning the training program, students are required to be trained in and demonstrate proficiency in the use of the IACP/NHTSA-approved standardized field sobriety tests, including the horizontal gaze nystagmus test.

Phase I of the drug recognition training consists of a two-day (16-hour) preschool. During this preschool, students are taught the definition of the term “drug” as it is used in the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program, and become familiar with the techniques of the drug evaluation. Students also begin to learn the techniques and procedures for evaluating persons suspected of drug impairment.

Phase II of training is a seven-day (56-hour) classroom program, during which students receive detailed instruction in the techniques of the drug evaluation examination as well as in physiology, the effects of drugs and legal considerations. Upon completion of this phase of training, the student must pass a comprehensive written examination before proceeding to Phase III of training, the field certification.

The field certification portion of training follows completion of the classroom training and is conducted at periodic intervals for the next sixty to ninety days. During this portion of the training, students, under the direction of certified instructors, evaluate subjects suspected of being impaired by drugs other than alcohol. After participating in and documenting the results of at least twelve drug evaluations and completing a comprehensive examination, the student is certified as a Drug Recognition Expert.

CRITERIA:

1. In order to be considered for certification as a Drug Recognition Expert, a person shall be in the employ and under the direct control of a public criminal justice agency or institution involved in providing training services to officers of law enforcement agencies.

Commentary: At the discretion of the agency head or administrator, and with the consent of the training body, other persons may audit or observe any or all portions of the DRE training. Persons attending the course as auditors or observers shall not be eligible for certification.

Persons pursuing certification as drug recognition experts for the purpose of instructing in the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program must meet all requirements for certification and recertification in order to maintain their standing as DREs or DRE instructors.

2. The candidate DRE must have experience in preparing comprehensive investigative reports and in providing detailed court testimony.

Commentary: The technical nature of the drug evaluation process and the need to provide detailed and accurate documentation of findings and conclusions requires proficiency in preparing reports. Candidate DREs should have demonstrated the ability to investigate, document and prepare detailed reports of incidents such as major traffic crashes or criminal violations. In addition, DREs must be able to provide court testimony concerning their methods and results, as well as their training and qualifications.

3. All DRE candidates must attend and complete the IACP/NHTSA-approved course of instruction in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST), or an equivalent curriculum approved by the IACP Highway Safety Committee and Technical Advisory Panel. They shall demonstrate proficiency in the use of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, to the satisfaction of a DRE instructor, by the conclusion of the IACP/NHTSA DRE preschool or a school meeting the criteria in #2 above.

Commentary: The drug evaluation process requires that the contribution of alcohol to observed impairment be determined. NHTSA has developed, and the IACP has adopted, the Standardized Field Sobriety Test procedure in conjunction with immediate breath testing, as a means of identifying the alcohol-impaired driver. If the effects of alcohol are determined not to be the sole cause of impairment, the officer can begin the evaluation process to determine what other causes may be responsible.

In order to conform to the IACP/NHTSA model curriculum, SFST training must contain the specified number of hours and include at least two approved alcohol workshops. In addition, the training must instruct students in the administration of the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), walk and turn, and one leg stand tests.

Each agency should ensure that candidates submitted for DRE training have received adequate time prior to beginning the training program to develop and to demonstrate proficiency in the use of SFST/HGN or allow for refresher training in these techniques as necessary.

4. All DRE candidates must attend and complete the IACP/NHTSA DRE preschool or an IACP-recognized equivalent prior to progressing to Phase II, the DRE school.

5. Prior to attending Phase II of the DRE training, the candidate shall have met the learning objectives for Phase I of the training program. The candidate shall be able to:

  1. Define the term “drug” as it is used in the DEC Program;
  2. Name the seven drug categories identified in the DRE Training Program;
  3. Measure vital signs, including blood pressure, pulse and body temperature;
  4. Show familiarity with the 12-step drug recognition evaluation process;
  5. Demonstrate proficiency in the administration of the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, including Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus;
  6. Show familiarity with the administration of the eye examinations, including pupil size, vertical nystagmus and lack of convergence.

These learning objectives are generally met through completion of Phase I, the DRE preschool. However, agencies have the latitude to determine the best means of ensuring that candidate DREs meet the prerequisites. The agency must verify, through the application process to the instructor responsible for delivering the training, that a candidate meets all requirements. Each candidate DRE will be required to demonstrate the knowledge and skills outlined.

Administrative guidelines and suggested application forms containing the necessary information will be provided by IACP staff to agencies and training institutions.

6. The candidate DRE shall complete an approved classroom training course which shall, at minimum, achieve the learning objectives as stated in the IACP-approved training curriculum.

Commentary: NHTSA and the IACP have developed a classroom training course that, when completed, qualifies the student to proceed to the field certification portion of the training program. Because of differences in the type and level of training for officers in the detection of the impaired subject, agencies should determine the most effective means of providing classroom training in drug recognition. However, in order to maintain the credibility and integrity of the certification program, agencies that use a training program other than that currently approved by the IACP, must have the alternative curriculum approved by the IACP Technical Advisory Panel as meeting learning objectives. In addition, the Technical Advisory Panel will be responsible for providing periodic updates and modifications to the IACP training curriculum.

7. All candidate DREs shall attend and complete all classroom portions of an approved DRE curriculum prior to progressing to Phase III, the field certification phase. This shall include satisfactorily completing all assignments and required examinations. Students shall not be permitted to “test out” of portions of the training, nor shall they be permitted to attend only those classes that they have not previously completed.

Commentary: Class sessions missed should be made up prior to the final exam.

8. In order to satisfactorily complete the classroom portion of the training and proceed to field certification, candidate DREs must complete an IACP-approved final examination with a score of not less than eighty percent (80%). Candidates scoring less than 80% on the final examination may be retested one time, under the supervision of a certified DRE instructor. The retest shall be completed not less than fifteen nor more than thirty days following the completion of the classroom training.

Commentary: Upon satisfactory completion of the examination, the candidate may then proceed to field certification. The examination used to retest the candidate shall be an IACP-approved examination and shall not have been administered to the candidate previously. If the candidate does not achieve a passing score on reexamination, the candidate must retake the classroom portion of the training and pass the knowledge examination before proceeding further in the certification process.

9. Upon completion of the field certification phase of training, the candidate must demonstrate the ability to conduct a complete drug evaluation in an approved sequence and appropriately document and interpret the results. The candidate must also be able to document the findings of the evaluation and demonstrate proficiency in interviewing techniques.

Commentary: One of the primary factors in the success of the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program (DECP) has been the emphasis upon a standardized approach to the drug recognition process. The training stresses the importance of a systematic, structured approach to performing the drug evaluation. This includes completing all portions of the evaluation in the appropriate sequence. Upon conclusion of an evaluation the DRE reviews the results of all tests, examinations and observations; documents the findings; and draws a conclusion based on the totality of the evidence.

10. To be considered for certification as a drug recognition expert, the candidate must satisfactorily complete a minimum of twelve (12) drug evaluations, during which the candidate must encounter and identify subjects under the influence of at least three of the drug categories as described in the DRE training program. All three drug categories must be supported by toxicology.

Of the evaluations required for certification, the candidate shall administer at least six evaluations. The candidate may observe the remaining evaluations. Certification training evaluations will be conducted in accordance with the current procedures and guidelines established in the DECP training curricula.

All evaluations, either administered or observed, and documented for certification purposes, shall be observed and supervised by at least one certified DRE instructor.

Commentary: Ideally, a drug evaluation will be performed by no more than two persons: the evaluator and one observer. At no time should more than four persons participate in an evaluation, as the results of the evaluation may be influenced by the distraction caused by a large number of persons observing the process.

11. Prior to completing the certification phase of training, the candidate DRE must demonstrate the ability to draw correct conclusions consistent with observed physiological signs and symptoms. In addition, the conclusions must be supported by the findings of a forensic toxicology laboratory. No candidate DRE shall be certified as a drug recognition expert unless blood, urine, or other appropriate biological samples are obtained and submitted from at least nine (9) subjects whom the candidate DRE has examined for certification purposes. These may include subjects for whom the candidate DRE served as the examination recorder or observer as well as those subjects directly evaluated by the candidate DRE. Further, the candidate DRE cannot be certified unless the opinion concerning the drug category or categories affecting the subject is supported by forensic toxicological analysis seventy-five percent (75%) of the time, or in at least seven (7) of the nine (9) samples submitted for certification purposes. For purposes of this standard, a candidate DRE’s opinion is supported if the toxicological analysis discloses the presence of at least one drug category named by the candidate DRE. In the event that the candidate DRE has concluded that three or more categories of drugs are involved, at least two categories must be supported by toxicology results.

Commentary: Successful and uniform application of this standard places important forensic toxicological requirements on the program. First, the blood or urine specimen must be obtained as soon as possible after the arrest so that the contents of the sample refer to the subject’s status at the time of the offense. Second, the sample must be properly sealed, stored, transported to the forensic toxicology laboratory and analyzed in a timely fashion to maintain the integrity of the specimen. Third, the drug recognition examination should be conducted as soon as possible after the offense so that the results of the evaluation accurately refer to the subject’s status at the time of the offense. Fourth, the laboratory should use its full powers of analysis and detection to attempt to identify each category named by a candidate DRE; in some cases this may require the laboratory to modify its routine screening and confirmation procedures. Finally, the laboratory must complete its report on the samples as soon as possible and provide a copy of the report to the arresting officer, DRE or candidate DRE submitting the sample. It is the submitting officer’s responsibility to provide a report to each DRE or candidate DRE who participated in the evaluation.

Although the candidate DRE must complete a minimum of twelve (12) drug evaluations, Criteria #11 requires only 75 percent (75%) of those to include a biological sample. This allows for those cases in which a biological sample is unavailable, such as when a subject refuses or cannot provide one. In those cases when an evaluation is not supported by forensic toxicology, a certified DRE instructor should ensure that the candidate DRE’s opinion was based on observable signs and symptoms consistent with the opinion.

12. Prior to concluding field certification training, the candidate shall satisfactorily complete an approved “Certification Knowledge Examination.” The examination shall be administered and the results reviewed by at least one certified instructor. The examination shall only be administered after the candidate has completed not less than three drug evaluations.

Commentary: The “Certification Knowledge Examination” consists of a comprehensive written examination followed by a detailed interview with the reviewing instructor(s). As stated previously, certification is based on the evaluation by the instructor(s) of the skills and abilities of the candidate rather than on the completion of a specified set of tasks. The purpose of the examination and interview is to aid the instructor(s) in evaluating the candidate’s qualifications, performance and general abilities.

The examination should be administered when, in the judgment of the reviewing instructor(s), the candidate has demonstrated proficiency in conducting, evaluating and documenting results of the drug evaluation process.

13. The candidate DRE shall complete the field certification phase of training within six months following completion of the classroom training, unless the time limit is extended by the appropriate DRE coordinator.

Commentary: Under normal circumstances, a candidate not completing field certification within the prescribed time period will be dropped from the program. However, a reevaluation of the candidate’s qualifications and the reasons for non-completion may be conducted by the appropriate DRE coordinator to determine whether or not circumstances exist that indicate that the candidate should continue in the program.

14. By the time the candidate DRE has completed field certification training, the candidate shall have prepared a resume which shall reflect the candidate’s training and experience in drug recognition. The resume shall include a complete log of all evaluations in which the candidate has participated.

Commentary: In order to be accepted as a credible witness, the drug recognition expert must be able to document and articulate a body of information concerning training, qualifications and experience in the field of drug evaluation and classification. To this end, candidates are instructed in the importance and proper preparation of a professional resume.

15. When the candidate DRE has satisfactorily completed all requirements of the classroom and field certification portions of training, at least two certified DRE instructors who have observed the candidate during the field certification process will verify that the candidate meets all requirements for certification as a Drug Recognition Expert.

Commentary: The certification process relies in large part on the judgment of the instructor(s) as to the abilities and performance of the candidate. Experience has shown that in many cases, particularly those in which a candidate’s qualifications may be in question, the opinion of a second instructor as to readiness for certification is of value. In addition, the use of a second instructor to evaluate the candidate may overcome any bias, either for or against a candidate. For these reasons, each candidate must be evaluated by at least two instructors prior to becoming certified as a DRE.

16. Following completion of certification requirements, copies of all documents, including test results, evaluation logs and drug evaluation reports shall be forwarded to the agency DRE coordinator who shall forward all documents to the state coordinator. The state DRE coordinator shall forward the names and copies of certification progress logs of the DREs they have certified as having successfully completed all phases of the DRE training program. The IACP will then credential each applicant and will register him as a certified drug recognition expert.

Commentary: The IACP staff shall maintain current listings of persons certified as drug recognition experts. Upon notification that a person has met all requirements, staff shall complete and forward to the state coordinator a certificate indicating that he meets all requirements of the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program as a drug recognition expert. The state coordinator shall forward these documents to the agency which, in turn, will present them to the DRE.

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