Drug recognition experts give RCMP a weapon in battle against impaired driving

Red Deer RCMP are promising more CheckStops and a greater ability to nab drivers under the influence of drugs.

Red Deer RCMP are promising more CheckStops and a greater ability to nab drivers under the influence of drugs.

While public campaigns against drunk driving are widespread, and police have tools with which they can determine blood-alcohol content to back up their suspicions, officers speak of a rise in people getting behind the wheel impaired by drugs. And without the benefit of a device like the breathalyzer, proving impairment via drugs has been far more onerous.

But now with four certified drug recognition experts (DREs), the Red Deer force says it will be able to identify more drug impaired drivers and ensure they face more consequences. DREs are specially trained to identify and charge drivers by determining if they are under the influence of illicit or prescription drugs, or a combination of substances.

Red Deer has had certified DREs as part of its force before, but never four at one time. Cpl. Matt LaBelle with the traffic services division came to the city last year as an accredited DRE and he has since trained three other officers.

LaBelle said without having a drug recognition expert available, it can be difficult for an officer performing a CheckStop to charge someone with impaired driving. With DREs on staff, officers can call one in, and the trained officer will perform a variety of tests back at the station focusing on everything from blood pressure and muscle tone to pupil size.

DREs are called in when drivers perform poorly on field sobriety tests and alcohol has been ruled out as a factor. If through the various psycho-physical tests the DRE believes a driver is impaired by one or a combination of seven categories of drugs, the officer can demand a blood, urine or saliva sample.

“We’re looking at the total picture when we conduct our evaluation, we’re not just pinpointing one thing . . . . We know that certain drug categories cause certain things when it comes to the clinical indicators, so we’re able to steer our way into the right category in terms of calling it,” said LaBelle.

Since he himself was certified in 2011, LaBelle said he has done 40 such evaluations and the urine/blood/saliva samples have always confirmed the presence of the particular drugs he has identified through testing.

Local CheckStops from June 28 resulted in four arrests and suspensions for drugged driving and only three for drunk driving. Because urine samples are typically sent to Vancouver for analysis, charges are still pending for the two drivers arrested for drug impairment on that day. Two other drivers were handed 24-hour suspensions based on the results of field sobriety tests.

In 2008, the federal government passed a law that allows police to compel a blood or urine test where drug impaired driving is suspected, similar to how suspected drunk drivers must accept a breathalyzer test or face charges. The penalties for driving impaired via alcohol and drugs are the same.

But while drunk driving charges relate to blood alcohol concentrations such as 0.05 or 0.08, drug charges are not based on concentrations. Because of that, some critics have noted that there is still room for subjectivity in determining drug impairment, making the process susceptible to abuse.

In 2013 Postmedia News reported on an internal RCMP document obtained through an access-to-information request that spoke of the difficulty of getting expert witnesses to testify in support of police methods and the varying support from Crown prosecutors across Canada to pursue cases.

In 2012, advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada called for the drug recognition expert program to be abandoned, to be replaced by random roadside drug screenings. It called the DRE program cumbersome and expensive.

LaBelle said with police noticing more people driving while affected by illegal or prescription drugs, occasionally mixed with alcohol, officers with special training help to confirm the suspicions of front-line officers. He said drug recognition experts can determine impairments caused by specific drugs and blood or urine tests most of the time merely confirm the presence of the intoxicating substances.

“It comes down to the nuts and bolts of these psycho-physical tests. We look at it and we can see how they process information, we can see how they process the directions on how to properly conduct the test and then we see them conduct the test and see if they can do that correctly or not,” he said.

LaBelle said the four Red Deer DREs will also be available to help other area detachments if called upon.

mfish@bprda.wpengine.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Erika Fetterly, owner of EFP Studios, recently launched the Let Them Have A Voice campaign. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta photographer’s campaign aims to give youths a voice

An Innisfail photographer is giving a platform to young central Albertans so… Continue reading

Chopped Canada-winning chef Pete Sok is trying to focus on the future as he reopens Boulevard Restaurant and Lounge in the Holiday Inn on Gasoline Alley during the pandemic. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer’s celebrity chef looks past the pandemic with new restaurant opportunity

Pete Sok is reopening Boulevard Restaurant — and betting on the future

The Red Deer Rebels hosted the Medicine Hat Tigers in the first game of the shortened 2020-21 season on Friday. The two teams faced off again in Medicine Hat Saturday (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Red Deer Rebels fall to Medicine Hat Tigers on Saturday

Tigers 7 Rebels 2 The Red Deer Rebels have lost two straight… Continue reading

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is condemning alleged vandalism at the… Continue reading

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Machin waits to appear at the Standing Committee on Finance on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. Executives who engage in so-called "vaccine tourism" show both an ethical disregard for those less fortunate and a surprising lack of business acumen, experts argue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine tourism is both unethical and bad for business, experts say

Executives who engage in so-called “vaccine tourism” show both an ethical disregard… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (13) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Justin Holl (3) battle in front as goalie Jack Campbell (36) makes the save during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, February 27, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
No Matthews, no problem: Minus NHL goal leader, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 4-0

Leafs 4 Oilers 0 EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs knew even with… Continue reading

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Gummed-up bills in House of Commons: harbinger of a federal election?

OTTAWA — All federal party leaders maintain they don’t want an election… Continue reading

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Pornhub policies reveal legal gaps and lack of enforcement around exploitive videos

OTTAWA — Serena Fleites was in seventh grade when a sexually explicit… Continue reading

Sean Hoskin stands on a neighbourhood street in Halifax on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Hoskin was diagnosed with COVID-19 almost a year ago with symptoms that still persist. Some provinces have established programs to deal with long-term sufferers but Atlantic Canada, with relatively low numbers of patients, has yet to provide a resource to assist them. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
On East Coast, exhausted COVID-19 ‘long haulers’ hope specialized clinics will emerge

HALIFAX — On evenings when Sean Hoskin collapses into bed, heart pounding… Continue reading

Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray (30) stands in his crease as Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane (88), left to right, defenceman Rasmus Andersson (4), Matthew Tkachuk (19), Mikael Backlund (11) and Mark Giordano (5) celebrate a goal during second period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Calgary Flames beat Ottawa 6-3 to end Senators’ three-game win streak

Flames 6 Senators 3 OTTAWA — The Calgary Flames used a balanced… Continue reading

Crosses are displayed in memory of the elderly who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on November 19, 2020. The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely to be much higher than recorded because of death certificates don't always list the virus as the cause of a fatality, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Death certificates don’t accurately reflect the toll of the pandemic, experts say

The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection… Continue reading

Most Read