Police Undergo Training to Identify Drug-Impaired Drivers
In response to an increase in drivers operating a vehicle while under the influence of legal and illegal drugs, county and state agencies organized a police officer training course this week geared toward identifying such offenders.
The Pennsylvania DUI Association, the Centre County Alcohol Task Force, and the Centre County District Attorney's Office hosted Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement training on Monday and Tuesday at the Ferguson Township Building.
Ferguson Township Police Sgt. Ryan L. Hendrick, coordinator for the Centre County Alcohol Task Force, says the goal is to put officers in a position to prevent DUI-related crashes, injuries and fatalities.
"We're just trying to stay proactive. We're trying to stay ahead of the curve," says Hendrick.
George Geisler Jr., drug enforcement recognition expert and Eastern Pennsylvania law enforcement director with the Pennsylvania DUI Association, says more and more drivers are impaired due to drugs.
"There's more driving impairment than ever before," Geisler says. "We now have a tremendous proliferation of prescription drug drivers ... Prescription drugs are an issue regardless of whether or not someone is taking them as prescribed."
In 2004, the drunk driving law in Pennsylvania changed to specifically include all drugs, from prescription drugs to inhalants to over the counter drugs to designer drugs, like bath salts, Geisler says.
Under the law, a controlled substance is "any substance, other than food, intended to affect any function of the human body," Geisler says.
While law enforcement agencies have been training officers to identify alcohol-impaired driving for some time. Only in recent years has there been a concerted effort to train officers to recognize drug-impaired drivers.
"Ultimately what we are doing here is saving lives and preventing injuries," Geisler says.
The number of alcohol-related DUIs has decreased in recent years, while the number of drug-related DUI arrests has increased, Geisler says. In 2012, the number of drug-related DUI arrests was at a record high of 30 percent of all DUI arrests, he says.
Under Pennsylvania law, if a person is arrested for having both alcohol and drugs – legal or illegal – in their system, they can face harsher penalties, Geisler says.
In 2012, police made roughly 718 DUI arrests in Centre County, according to the Pennsylvania State Police Uniform Crime Reporting System.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration developed the 16-hour training course with input from the International Association of Chiefs of Police Technical Advisory Panel and the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. The program was developed to address the gap in officer training between standardized field sobriety testing and the drug evaluation and classification programs.