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Mid-Michigan police officers receive training to identify drivers high on drugs

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LANSING (WJRT) (2/7/2018) - Dozens of officers participated in the two-week Drug Recognition Expert training in January.


Three are from Mid Michigan -- an officer from the Midland Police Department and deputies from the Bay and Saginaw county sheriff's offices.

"It makes me feel really good knowing this training could help save a family or help save that person who might put their car in the ditch and injure themselves," said Bay County Sheriff Deputy Ben Latocki.

The drivers they worked with are volunteers. Organizers gave each of them something to drink so the officers could conduct real field sobriety tests.

They're working to master the test because they'll use it to identify drugged drivers.

"If they cannot properly do their (field sobriety tests), then they're not gonna be able to be good (drug recognition exams)," said Michigan State Police Trooper Troy Meder.

He has gone through the training and is now a certified instructor. He said around the state there are only 100 drug recognition experts.

"We're trying to add to that number because the instances of operating under the influence of drugs are now surpassing those operating while intoxicated by alcohol or liquor instances," he said.

Meder said the legalization of medical marijuana and the overwhelming opioid epidemic have been two contributing factors.

"In the last 10 years, the (operating while intoxicated) crashes in Michigan have gone down 36 percent, which is good news for us. We've done a good job," he said. "In that same time period, the instances of ... crashes caused by drug impaired drivers has gone up 236 percent -- and that's over a 10-year period."

Meder said that high percentage could be not only because more drivers are under the influence of drugs, but also because officers are now looking for it.

"I believe a lot of the (operating under the influence of drugs) crashes were going undetected years prior," he said. "So that same crash that results in an OUID arrest, maybe 10 years ago, would've just been a crash."

Latocki, the Bay County deputy, said officers were only trained to detect drivers operating under the influence of alcohol before, which allowed some drivers high on drugs to go free.

"Somebody could seem that they're all over the road, you see those signs of alcohol and you give 'em a (breath test) and they blow all zeroes," he said. "You know, before it was, they're not drunk, so bye. But now it's like, well wait, let's look at this, we need to dig deeper into this."

Latocki wants to make sure he never lets the wrong person go.

During the one-leg stand with his driver, he timed her for 30 seconds.

"She was at 20 seconds when I was at 30. So, she was at 10 seconds behind. So, you can see her internal clock -- her mindset, her thinking, everything is slowed down," Latocki said.

That tells him the driver is under the influence of some type of central nervous system depressant.

"It's going to slow everything down. A central nervous system stimulant it's going to speed it up -- methamphetamine, cocaine," he said. "They're at 30 seconds and you've only hit seven seconds on your timer because they're go go go go go because that stimulant is making everything go faster, run faster." 

Over the two-week training, the officers take a close look at seven categories of drugs:
- Depressants, like xanax or valium.
- Stimulants, like cocaine or methamphetamine.
- Hallucinogens, including LSD or ecstasy.
- Synthetic Drugs, such as keatamine and PCP.
- Narcotics, like heroin, Vicodin or Oxycontin.
- Inhalants, like paint thinners or plastic cement.
- Cannabis or marijuana.

"A lot of drugs don't have odor to it, especially with your prescription narcotics. It's very difficult to pick up initially," said Saginaw County Sheriff Deputy Charlie Gibson.

He has encountered drugged drivers every shift, which is why he wanted to go through the training.

"Everyone is in danger when you have a drugged or a drunk driver on the road," he said. "We put in a lot of hours, so hopefully the outcome is great."

His driver, Brian Johnson, is grateful the officers are making this proactive effort.

"I'm a father, I'm a husband and I take my family's safety really seriously. You know, people are human, they make mistakes, but at the same time, those mistakes shouldn't be made on the highways, jeopardizing someone's life. So I really appreciate what the troopers do," Johnson said. 

Meder said other drivers have no way of protecting themselves against a driver on drugs.

"You can insulate yourself from a drunk driver by staying home in the evenings and on Friday nights and New Years Eve and all that. But, there's no way for you to insulate yourself from the danger of an OUID driver. They are everywhere," he said. 

The three local officers still have one more step in their drug recognition training before they graduate.



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