Learning to be a DRE: Drug Recognition Expert

Aside from her normal duties as a Marion County Sheriff’s deputy, Megan Sullivan has an important interest: DUI investigations.

More importantly, Sullivan wants to be a Drug Recognition Expert, or DRE.

“Getting impaired drivers off the street saves lives,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan is getting her wish. She is among 16 statewide law enforcement officials, from Miami to Escambia County, training to be DREs. The training is happening at the Ocala Police Department.

The purpose for the training, which began last week and continues this week, is to teach those who patrol the roadways to identify non-alcohol types of impairment — such as pills, cocaine or marijuana.

Darrell Edmonds is the state DRE coordinator and an instructor at the Institute of Police Technology and Management, a law enforcement agency affiliated with the University of North Florida whose officials train law enforcement nationally and statewide on topics such as traffic and investigation.

After the classroom work, the trainees will undergo field testing in Jacksonville. In the field, each candidate must complete 12 evaluations on a drug-impaired person under the supervision of an instructor. That part of the training is expected to last two days.

If, after two days, a law enforcement official has not completed their evaluation, then he or she can return to his or her jurisdiction to complete the course with an instructor.

Edmonds said the final phase of the course is for the applicant to take an examination, which can last anywhere from six to 12 hours.

Edmonds said the DRE program is not just about learning how to look for impaired drivers. For example, he said it is used in schools to check whether a student is intoxicated. Another example: Determining, during an interview with a potential suspect in a criminal investigation, whether the person is impaired.

“Less than 1 percent of law enforcement officials receive this kind of training because of the amount of time it takes,” Edmonds said.

Ocala police Officer Dan E. Wright, responsible for organizing the class and himself a DRE expert, said this type of training is needed. According to the latest study, more than 50 percent of impaired drivers were under the influence of something other than alcohol.

“In order to keep our roadways safe, we need trained officers to detect these kinds of impairment,” said Wright, the lead instructor for the program.

Both Wright and Edmonds said that with medical marijuana and recreational marijuana being legal in some states, it is important that authorities know how to spot impaired driving. They said DRE is a worldwide program that is practiced in Guam, the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada.

Locally, Wright said, there are seven DRE experts: three each from the OPD and the Florida Highway Patrol, with the seventh from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. There also are two DRE instructors: Wright and FHP Sgt. Anthony Please.

Wright said Ocala police Officer Rebecca Letson and Sheriff's deputies Sullivan and Christopher Rafferty are among the people attending this current class.

“This is really good for Marion County,” Wright said.

Contact Austin L. Miller at 867-4118, austin.miller@starbanner.com or @almillerosb.