Cop headed to drug recognition training

BAR HARBOR — The Police Department here is taking strides to prepare for an expected uptick in impaired driving, given the recent legalization of recreational marijuana and the ongoing opioid crisis.

A breathalyzer test can be used during a traffic stop to gauge alcohol impairment, but no such roadside tests are available for drug impairment. Instead, law enforcement officers rely on specialized training to evaluate a driver’s behavior. Medical data including pulse and blood pressure are part of the evaluation. Blood tests in impaired driving cases are now so common that some officers are even being trained as phlebotomists.

Judson Cake is the only officer on Mount Desert Island currently certified as a drug recognition expert, and there are only a few in Hancock county.

There are three tiers of field sobriety testing. All graduates from the Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro learn a number of basic ways to test sobriety.

The second level is Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement, which was encouraged by Maine’s Department of Public Safety after the legalization of recreational marijuana. This advanced training is done over two days, where officers learn new tests and ways to determine what drugs could be involved in a situation.

Drug recognition expert training is the most intensive. Officers learn to look for pupil dilation, take pulse and blood pressure, and ask medical history questions during evaluations.

“It’s like a puzzle you’re putting together during the process of the evaluation,” Cake said. “By the end, I know exactly what I’m looking at.”

“[Cake] is the only one on the island, [and] we do make him available to other agencies,” Chief Jim Willis said. “It tends to stretch him, and we’d like to have people get a day off every once and while.”

Officer Jerrod Hardy plans to take the Drug Recognition Expert course this year. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BAR HARBOR POLICE DEPARTMENT

Public Safety Commissioner John Morris worked to make advanced training more available after the recreational marijuana referendum passed last year.

“We want to train as many people as we can because we think we’re going to see an upswing in impaired driving,” Willis said.

The Bar Harbor Police Department has six officers trained in advanced testing, including Jerrod Hardy, who is set to become a drug recognition expert this year.

He said he was inspired to pursue expert training after something like 30 percent of his operating-under-the-influence calls bounced to Cake’s desk. Cake is also sometimes called to assist with cases off the island.

“I work the overnight shift and that’s, in my experience and statistically, where we see most of our OUIs,” Hardy said. “I noticed in my recent involvements in OUIs that a pretty good percentage of them are being turned over to [Cake] because there are drugs on board.”

Expert evaluations are only conducted after officers have probable cause to detain a driver for operating under the influence. Drug recognition experts are able to testify in court as experts on nonalcohol related impaired driving cases.

In order to maintain the certification, a DRE must respond to four calls in which they use the training every two years.

Cake said that he went on 19 such calls last year.

“I’ll see heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamines, cocaine [and] a lot of Adderall,” he said.

According to Willis, there is a vetting process that includes interviews for all drug recognition expert candidates. The nine-day training is held in Baltimore, Md.

“We were in class from 7 a.m. to 6 [p.m.] and studying in our rooms every night,” Cake said of his training. “There were hundreds of definitions; I think I had 400-500 flashcards.”

A grant from the state Bureau of Highway Safety is helping the department with Hardy’s transportation costs.

Cake said that he is passionate about the issue of impaired driving, which drove him to begin the Drug Recognition Expert program.

“It was kind of our biggest problem in town with all the bars and the drugs that are everywhere,” Cake said. “I wanted to get as good at it as I could be, and the only way to do that was to become a DRE and eventually a DRE instructor.”




Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd is a University of Maine graduate and a former Bar Harbor reporter for the Mount Desert Islander.
Samuel Shepherd

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