Alcohol. Cannabis. Ketamine. Nitrous. Spice. Bath salts.
When it comes to a police officer’s job of keeping streets safe from motorists who are driving while under the influence, it’s a continual process of education and keeping up with the latest drug trends. Not a simple feat.
At a recent Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) class, offered by Fullerton Police Department’s Drug Recognition Expert Unit – one of only three agencies in the state approved to run a DRE School – 60 officers from multiple agencies, including the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol, sat through the two-day course at Fullerton Public Library’s conference room.
The ARIDE course is a prerequisite of DRE School and the Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST), also offered by FPD, is a prerequisite of ARIDE. All three courses work together to prepare officers on proper handling of driving under the influence (DUI) stops and arrests.
“Nothing will ever match your first ingestion of cocaine,” DRE Coordinator Officer Eric Franke told the class, explaining what law enforcement is up against. “You will be forever seeking that same high for as long as you live… People use drugs because they make them feel good, period.”
Among some of the topics Franke covered with the class – often demonstrated with some video – were the seven drug categories: central nervous system stimulants, hallucinogens, dissociative anesthetics, narcotic analgesics, inhalants, central nervous system depressants and cannabis. Each category comes with a long list of individual drugs that officers must become well versed in because they will surely encounter them out in the field.
But not everything an officer encounters will be drug-related. Franke also discussed medical conditions that can mimic drug impairment – including head trauma, stroke, diabetes, conjunctivitis, shock and multiple sclerosis.
“Conjunctivitis might look like marijuana intoxication,” he said.
California’s recent legalization of marijuana through Prop. 64 was a topic that came up several times during class.
“It’s the new alcohol,” Franke said of modern marijuana usage.
Franke told Behind the Badge that marijuana is much more potent today than it was in the ’60s.
“We’re seeing a lot more incidents of marijuana intoxication while driving,” he said, adding that the legalization of the drug through Prop. 64 may be validating, in people’s minds, its usage while driving.
CHP Officer Daniel Howard, who works out of Westminster, said he’s been noticing an increase over the last couple of years – even before Prop. 64 – in not only marijuana use but also vaping (which can be used with THC oils) and prescription drugs. He said his department is now making the ARIDE course mandatory rather than voluntary.
“There’s been an uptake in all this stuff,” he said.
CHP Officer Duane Graham, also from Westminster, said all the extra training is coming in handy, especially with the passing of Prop. 64.
“We need to become, as officers, more educated and we need to educate the public,” he said.