Eight-year police veteran Officer David Auld recently earned the Drug Recognition Expert certification, joining officers Justin Rutland, Stephen Miller and Michael Gardner, who earned theirs more than four years ago.
Marietta Police Chief Dan Flynn said police officers are well trained and equipped to confront drunk driving, but the traditional testing methods do not detect all drug impairment.
“The police must evolve in a way that enables us to deal effectively with all threats to public safety, old and new,” he said.
Auld, who earned the certification Aug. 19, said he pursued it because of “a new-found love — for lack of a better word — to get impaired drivers off the road.”
“It intrigued me what the eyes are able to tell you about an individual and their impairment,” he said. “(The training is) probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my professional career, but worth every second.”
Rutland, who’s been an instructor with the certification program for almost a year and has six years’ experience as a police officer, said the certificate is one of the hardest to obtain in law enforcement.
“I just have a passion for reducing impaired driving,” he said. “DREs will see the impairment by alcohol, but they’ll also be able to pick up on things that are outside of just alcohol.”
The six-month quest to earn the certification requires two weeks at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth and 240 hours of on-the-job training.
“It’s a difficult class for anyone because there was a lot of information to learn and take in,” Miller said, “but I personally liked the class and the training. It teaches you a lot.”
He sought out the certification to teach people how to avoid becoming a statistic.
“It’s a choice that people make to go out and become intoxicated and operate a motor vehicle,” he said. “It’s much safer to take a taxi.”
Gardner said the class teaches each student about different kinds of drugs, what they do to a person and what an officer will be able to see when that person is under the influence.
Gardner said he was called to WellStar Kennestone Hospital two years ago to look a patient who was obviously impaired but passed a toxicology screen.
After evaluating the patient’s erratic behavior, hallucinations, high blood pressure, heart rate and temperature, Gardner determined he had used bath salts.
“When the effects finally wore off, he had no knowledge of how he even got to the hospital,” he said.
All four agreed that while synthetic drugs are not increasing fatalities in the city limits, they have seen a rising trend of abuse in the last five years.
“The overall program’s goal is to reduce the amount of crashes and fatalities and serious injury crashes that occur because of drug-impaired driving,” Rutland said. “Marietta is trying to stay on the cutting edge of trying to rein in those types of crashes.”
He also said the designer drugs, which can be bought over the counter at retails scores, are being used more by individuals in their late teens to early 20s.
The officers could not say how much the certification cost but said the International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Governor’s Office of Highway Safety funded it. It must be renewed every two years.
The Cobb County Police Department has seven officers with the DRE certification.