Monday, July 26, 2010

DRE history: Rewrite?


The pictured document was distributed at the NHTSA booth at the 16th Annual IACP Impaired Driving Conference held in Pittsburgh, PA last week. As you might imagine, I was incredulous to "learn" that Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Virginia, New York and other states adopted the DRE Program before California! I vociferously pointed this out to the NHTSA representatives, as well as to Chuck Hayes of the IACP. Without going into detail, I requested that this be rectified post-haste to show that Los Angeles had the DRE Program before anyone else. In fact, the IACP didn't credential DREs until about 1990. Arizona officers were first certified by the LAPD! I believe that the 1990 date shown for California represents the year that the California Highway Patrol adopted the national program.

So when did the DRE program actually start? Like many innovations, it's pretty much impossible to put a definite date on the beginning of DRE. For example, the origin of the first automobile is still debated in my hometown of Detroit. Here's my perspective (in part) on the beginnings of DRE.

When was the first DRE school? Well, the first DRE-like school, took place in 1980. This course, called the Drug Recognition Seminar, was 11 days long. Thus, at this point in time, and up to 1987, the program was called "Drug Recognition," and not "Drug Recognition Expert."

My direct involvement in DRE came in 1985. I was loaned from Hollywood Division, where I was working as a P-3 Training Officer, to the Department's Traffic Coordination Section. My primary assignment was to assist in developing and monitoring the logistics of what became known as the Los Angeles Field Validation Study, also commonly referred to as the 173 Case Study. At this time, there really wasn't a formal DRE program. Although certain officers had been accepted by the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, Hill Street Branch, as DREs (see prior post), there was no formal curriculum, no standardized procedures, no standard reporting format, no specific certification criteria, and more. In my opinion, at this point the program was really "DRE Beta," a great, innovative concept, without formalization. It was not until 1987 that the course, the procedure and the certification became standardized. This was a direct result of Jack Oates, Bill Tower (on loan from the Maryland State Police to NHTSA), and Bill Nash attending the May, 1986, Drug Recognition School in LA. The instructors for this course were LAPD officers, including me. The LAPD instructors, in alphabetical order, were: Patricia (Russell) Berry, James Brown, Milt Dodge, Ian Hall, Arthur Haversat, Clark John, Baron Laetzsch, Gary Lynch, Ron Moen, Michael Murray, Thomas Page, Craig Peters, Jerry Powell, Scott Sherman, Richard Studdard, Larry Voelker, Michael Widder, and Nicholas Zingo. We individually created our lesson plans, overhead projections, and handouts. Jack, Bill, and Bill sat through the entire course, obtained the handouts, took notes, and used this as the raw material to create a formal course. The NHTSA course material, including the standardized procedure, that came out of this is remarkably similar to what's used today. Today's DRE Program, formally called the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program (DECP), descended from this. So, although some officers were called DREs before this, I'm confident in saying that there really wasn't a DECP/DRE Program until the NHTSA curriculum was released in 1987. DREs certainly, but not a program. And none of this would have occurred without the vision and tenacity of Dick Studdard, Lynn Leeds, and many others, including Marcelline Burns, PhD. In further blog entries, I'll expand upon the early days of DRE.

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