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Drug Abuse Recognition for Probation and Parole Officers

By Keith Graves, student, Criminal Justice at American Military University

The majority of individuals in the nation’s criminal justice system have substance abuse issues. A 2004 study from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that nearly one-third (32 percent) of all state prisoners were high on drugs at the time they committed the offense that sent them to prison. More than half (56 percent) of state inmates had abused drugs the month prior to their commitment offense. The study goes on to show that 83 percent of prisoners had used drugs at some point in their lives, the most prevalent being marijuana, stimulants (cocaine/methamphetamine), and opiates (heroin/pharmaceuticals).

[Related Article: What Law Enforcement Can Learn from Marijuana Legalization in Colorado]

Suffice it to say, knowledge of drugs and their effects is very important to anyone working in the criminal justice system, especially those working in probation or parole.

To help officers determine if someone is under the influence of drugs, a group of officers in California developed a program called the drug abuse recognition (DAR) course. This program evolved into a flexible, modular program that has now trained thousands of officers throughout California.

The DAR program was developed to help identify individuals currently under the influence of drugs, which makes it ideal for use by probation and parole officers, correctional officers, private industry, and school officials.

Drug UseMany officers often ask why they need to know if a suspect is under the influence of drugs, especially since a urine test will show drug use. But a chemical test will only show that they have used. Knowing if a suspect is currently under the influence of drugs is important for officer safety.

Take, for example, an incident with a probation officer who encountered her probationer on the street. The officer had received DAR training and quickly determined that the probationer was under the influence of a drug, likely cannabis. She took him into custody and conducted a urine test to show presumptive results of drug presence. However, the test showed that THC was not present in the urine specimen. The probation officer tested the sample using a Drug-Check K2/Spice test, which came back positive. By recognizing the signs of drug use, the officer was able to act immediately and determine which substances the person was using.

[Related Article: New Designer Drug, Flakka, Hits the Streets]

In another case, DAR training was used by an officer to show current drug influence in a probationer who was caring for children. The probation officer had to demonstrate that the probationer was currently under the influence so the children could be immediately and lawfully removed from the situation.

The Origin of DAR
DAR was born from the drug recognition expert (DRE) program, which was originally developed for traffic officers conducting DUI investigations. To be a certified DRE, officers must go through two weeks of classroom training plus one week of field training. This extensive training program made it difficult to expand the program on a national scale.

In the late 1980s, the Glendale Police Department in California developed the DAR program by reducing the DRE process from 12 steps to seven and cutting the drug evaluation from one hour to 10 minutes. Additionally, they developed a modular process so that an entire agency could be affordably trained in a short amount of time regarding drug influence procedures. As an example, almost every officer in my 90-officer department is trained in DAR, whereas most large agencies have a few DRE officers and smaller departments often have one or none.

The 7-Step Process
In order to determine drug influence, officers administer seven tests similar to roadside sobriety tests, which are:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
  • Vertical Gaze Nystagmus
  • Lack of Convergence
  • Pulse (taken 3 times during your contact)
  • Romberg Stand
  • Pupillary Comparison
  • Pupillary Reaction to Light

At the conclusion of this process, officers use a matrix on the back of a supplied pupilometer to determine what, if any, drug category the person is under the influence of.

[Related Article: Impacts of Synthetic Drugs Like Spice and Bath Salts on Officer Safety]

After administering the drug evaluation, officers then use a presumptive oral fluid or urine test to determine the presence of the suspected drug. If the person does not test positive for what the officers suspected, an officer can then check for designer drugs. If a suspect tests positive, officers have quick knowledge and proof of current drug intoxication, which allows for a more thorough search and interrogation.

[Related Article: Rehabilitation: A Shift in How the Criminal Justice System Addresses Drug Offenders]

Many officers will confront suspects with the proof of their drug intoxication to “flip” them. This refers to the practice of making the suspect turn in others who are dealing the drug they are taking. Many great cases have been started from a simple DAR exam and presumptive drug screen.

Toxicology and DAR
From my experience working drug enforcement, I have found that suspects who are subject to random drug tests, like many parolees, will often use drugs that are not included in standardized tests. As an example, I have run across parolees and probationers who will substitute methamphetamine and cocaine (two commonly tested for drugs) with bath salts or spice.

Researchers are now noticing this trend as well. Dr. Dina Perrone, a professor at California State University at Long Beach, conducted a study into the habits of people who use synthetic drugs. Perrone surveyed 374 undergraduate students and interviewed 25 “designer drug” users. Perrone found that a majority of synthetic cannabis (spice) users were trying to avoid drug-test screenings or criminal sanctions, since synthetic cannabinoids don’t show up in standard urine drug tests.

“Most were using synthetic cannabinoids to avoid positive drug tests, seeking some type of altered state but trying to do so without getting punished,” she said. Many synthetic pot users in the study were attending abstinence-only drug treatment programs, under community correctional supervisions, seeking employment, or joining the U.S. military, and would return to pot after the drug-testing period ended.

Keith GravesAbout the Author: Keith Graves has been a police officer in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1990 and is currently a supervisor for a Special Operations Unit (a unit tasked with narcotic, vice and gang investigations). Keith is a Drug Recognition Expert Instructor (IACP #3292) and teaches both the DRE course and the CNOA Drug Abuse Recognition Course. Keith has also taught at the Basic Police Academy and has developed a number of drug courses for the California Narcotics Officers Association. Keith has held assignments as a Narcotics/Vice Detective, Training Sergeant, Patrol Sergeant, COPPS Officer, Traffic Officer, and SWAT Team Leader. Keith has taught thousands of officers and businesses about drug use, drug trends, compliance training and drug investigations. Keith earned a BA in Business Management from Saint Mary’s College of California. He is attending American Military University pursuing a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice in the School of Security and Global Studies. Keith is also a member of the Kappa Kappa chapter of Alpha Phi Sigma National Criminal Justice Honor Society at AMU. Keith is the founder and president of Graves & Associates, a company dedicated to providing drug training to law enforcement and private industry.

Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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