It’s DRE Time Again

As I was walking downtown tonight, I noticed a couple of police officer-types in non-local police officer uniforms talking to a couple of people slumped against a wall by the Union Gospel Mission.

As I approached, I saw the word “sheriff” on one of their shoulder patches. But these weren’t green uniforms, so they weren’t locals. I thought perhaps they were part of some multi-jurisdictional Rose Festival policing group.

Then, as I walked by, I realized what was going on. They were mentioning a local building that I’ve been to before, and mentioning that “we need to do a certain number of evaluations, we could really use your help.”

And then I realized, it’s the annual DRE training week.

Here’s the deal:

Every year, come Rose Festival time, police from several Oregon agencies (mostly in the northwester part of the state) send their agencies DRE trainees to Portland. For those who are tired of me using an undefined abbreviation, “DRE” stands for “Drug Recognition Expert.”

For further explanation, you can go here. The basic jist is the following: people can be impaired drivers using alcohol, and every offer is trained in the detection and investigation of alcohol DUII’s. Every Oregon police officer also goes through some training on investigating drugs and indications of drug influence. But some officers, primarily those who have established themselves as being particularly good at investigating DUII’s (believe me, some aren’t) are selected through a nominating process to become a DRE, and then go through an intensive specialized course to teach them about evaluating persons who are under the influence of particular categories of drugs.

By the end of the course, the officers are equipped with the skills and knowledge to identify the particular category (or categories) of drug an impaired driver is under the influence of. In my experience working with these officers, they are correct an amazingly large percentage of the time. Based on the protocol they use (which is verified using a urine sample), they have become an incredible tool in law enforcement.

Anyway, back to the point. Rose Festival has proven to be an excellent opportunity for these officers to do incredibly important test evaluations towards gaining their certification. They are able to come across an abnormally high number of impaired people walking around downtown, since the Waterfront Village and other activities tend to draw them, and they are able (amazingly) to get these people to volunteer to help them by getting evaluated.

The system goes like this: the trainees go out, invite apparently impaired people to come to their facility (not far from the action), and promise them that if they help out, they won’t be arrested, and will get free food (I think it’s pizza) to boot. People are encouraged to bring their loadie friends. In exchange for the free food and not getting arrested, the loadies make the rounds through two or three evaluations, helping the trainees build up their qualifications through the course of the week.

When the testee arrives, they first blow into a mobile intoxilyzer to demonstrate that they aren’t impaired by alcohol. They then go through the DRE protocol, a combination of an interview, visual inspection for obvious signs of use, a physical evaluation (which includes pupil-size checking in various light, temperature taking, three blood pressure checks, and other eye tests called the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus and lack of convergence) and some more typical-appearing field sobriety tests. At the end, they pee in the cup, and they’re done. Rinse and repeat a couple of times, and they get their pizza, soda, and not busted for the drugs they brought with them (but, of course, don’t leave with).

All trainee tests are overseen by veteran DRE’s who offer pointers and constructive criticism, while helping to validate the process for certification purposes. Occasionally, a local DA-type or other spectator may be around observing, which may have something to do with why I’m able to share this.

It’s a fascinating process.

And it’s fascinating to think how easy it is to find the guinea pigs right here in Portland on a Rose Festival Wednesday. Of course, there may be just as many affected people walking around on any other night, but it just seems so much more exciting when sandwiched between big-float Saturdays.

So, loadies, head downtown (but leave your black tar heroin and crack cocaine at home) and meet the local coppers. Get some free pizza. And, strangely, you’ll be doing a great service towards making our roadways safer.

Happy Rose Festival, everyone!

3 Comments so far

  1. no one in particular (unregistered) on June 7th, 2007 @ 3:36 am

    In my experience working with these officers, they are correct an amazingly large percentage of the time.

    You spend a lot of time on a wide variety of drugs in the vicinity of police officers?


  2. Aaron B. Hockley (unregistered) on June 7th, 2007 @ 8:01 am

    Great post Rusty… it’s nice to see something different, some sort of insider’s view on this blog.

    No One in Particular, not sure if you’re serious or not, but Rusty has previously indicated he used to work as a prosecutor for Multnomah County. I’m guessing that’s where his experiences come from…


  3. no one in particular (unregistered) on June 7th, 2007 @ 10:26 am

    No, I was joking… but yeah, that makes sense.



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