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Some CPD officers trained to recognize impairment beyond drunk driving

Columbia police officer Clint Sinclair feels like he’s found his niche in the DWI unit for the department, and recently accomplished a career goal by becoming a drug recognition expert.

“I feel like I’m making a difference saving lives and holding people accountable for their some of their actions,” he said.

As part of a national program, drug recognition experts, or DREs, are trained to spot signs of impairment that go beyond drunk driving, including drug and prescription drug impairment.

“It trains you to pick up on some of the smaller clues of impairment you might miss roadside doing a basic traffic stop,” said Sinclair.

He completed an intensive three-week certification training in September that included heading to Phoenix, Arizona, for hands-on evaluations with inmates at the county jail.

A DRE uses a 12-step process to identify the type of drug someone may be under the influence of and they’ll also bring them back to the police station or to another controlled environment to complete some of the tests.

“Some of the steps require certain types of lighting and darkrooms for us to examine eyes and pupil size,” he said. “We can’t do them roadside.”

Sinclair said DREs are also trained to spot signs of medical emergencies as well, but, he said, he hasn’t had any “medical rule-outs” since he’s been certified.

Prescription drugs can also impair a driver, whether they are being overused or taken as prescribed by a doctor, and Sinclair said spotting that is a big part of his job.

“A lot of people don’t understand that prescriptions can cause impairment when it says on your prescription bottle ‘don’t drive or use heavy machinery,'” he said. “That’s a serious warning because it can impair your ability to operate that vehicle.”

Both officers on CPD’s DWI unit are drug recognition experts and can be used by other local agencies when needed.

“Having those skills to go just beyond someone who’s admitted to drinking or smells like alcohol or being able to say ‘you shouldn’t be driving right now, you’re putting someone in danger’: to me, those skills are invaluable me and are vital to help protect the community and keep our roadways safe,” said Sinclair.

Here’s a link if you’d like to find out more about the program.

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