Law Enforcement Officers in the State DRE training program test volunteer Erin Heinert to see if she's drunk.
South Dakota law enforcement teamed up to conduct a couple of sobriety check points in the last month. The latest was the first weekend of June 2,050 drivers were stopped. 12 were arrested for drunk driving, 8 for drugs. But as Nancy Naeve reports, what you might not know is what some of those officers go through to be able to spot impaired drivers before a breathalyzer is ever given.
Before officers, deputies and troopers ever get to this point, checking drivers in a blocked off sobriety check point, some of them go the extra distance to make sure they are completely dialed in to tell if you are lit up. That advanced training program is called the South Dakota Drug Recognition Expert Training and Certification. It happens once a year in this state, most recently in Sioux Falls. One day of the 3-week intensive program involves volunteers drinking hard alcohol in a controlled environment while the "law enforcement students" are in a different location doing class work. The instructors made sure every "i" was dotted and every "t" crossed before their eyes became blood shot.
KSFY's Morning Producer Erin Heinert and our Editor Michael Steffl volunteered to toss some back and be on camera to show how the field sobriety training works. DRE State Coordinator Sgt. Ryan Mechaley with the SD Highway Patrol tells me they use alcohol as a baseline, but are really focusing on the drugged driver. Once they become an expert in the behavior of someone drunk, it will seem more obvious to them if they are using drugs.
"The training is needed in South Dakota and the US because we are seeing an increase in drug impaired drivers," Sgt. Ryan Mechaley said.
After 4 hours of monitored drinking, the law enforcement students in the program came in to start doing field sobriety checks on the volunteers.
"If a person is under the influence of alcohol we have that measurement .08. With drugs there are no measurements so when the officer is performing a sobriety test and someone is doing worse than what the expert thinks that usually indicated that drugs are involved," Sgt. Mechaley said.
The law enforcement students rotated around each volunteer testing them like they would during a field sobriety test, checking their balance: walk and turn, one leg stand, & examining their eyes everything except a breathalyzer to hone in their observation skills. Their intoxication varied between volunteers. Erin registered a .069, below the legal limit, while Michael was legally drunk at .104. Highway Patrol Trooper Jason Husby out of Vermillion says the extra training is definitely worth it.
"I think a lot of times we focus on alcohol impaired drivers and we are missing some that are just as impaired or just as dangerous to the public. This will increase our chances of locating them and removing them from the road," Trooper Jason Husby said.
All 13 students, 9 from South Dakota, 4 from Minnesota passed the class training, plus the field test in California and a final comprehensive exam. As drivers you should know you won't get away with drunk or drugged driving much longer because more men and women in uniform in this state, considered the best of the best, are taking the initiative to become Certified Drug Recognition Experts.
South Dakota has 43 Drug Recognition Experts out of 1,776 law enforcement officers. 22 of the 176 troopers are DRE's.
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