Drunk driver or high driver?

Patrick J. Sullivan psullivan@ptleader.com
Posted 11/29/16

It has taken widespread legalization of recreational marijuana use to spur scientific studies regarding what law enforcement has known for 50 years: Stoned drivers make mistakes that sometimes prove …

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Drunk driver or high driver?

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It has taken widespread legalization of recreational marijuana use to spur scientific studies regarding what law enforcement has known for 50 years: Stoned drivers make mistakes that sometimes prove fatal.

It’s the job of Luke Bogues, a police detective and drug recognition expert (DRE), to help law enforcement personnel know how to tell the difference between a drunk driver, and a driver who is high. Among the 220 DREs in Washington state, Bogues was one of 18 selected last summer to attend a national impaired-driving training conference.

“The number-one reason [marijuana] users are getting stopped by the police is excessive speed,” Bogues told the Leader. “Unable to divide their attention, marijuana users are doing a good job staying in the lane of travel, but they’re forgetting to watch the speedometer. We, as DREs, are not changing how we do evaluations, but we need to communicate with line officers who are well-versed in detecting alcohol DUIs that cannabis DUIs are going to look different, but there’s definite clues they can watch for.”

Bogues said the first published study on how marijuana can impair a driver was conducted in 1969. In the 1980s, the Los Angeles Police Department began developing a program defining the signs and symptoms exhibited by a cannabis-impaired driver. Medical marijuana measures, and the 2013 passage of Initiative 502 in Washington and Colorado’s Amendment 64 in 2012 set in motion a wave of changing public sentiment in regard to marijuana usage, Bogues noted. Now, fresh evidence in the form of cannabis DUIs allow for modern research.

“Marijuana users will exhibit impaired ability to divide their attention,” Bogues said. He points to the standard “walk and turn” test used in impaired-driving investigation.

“Whereas a drunk driver may flail around, a marijuana user oftentimes can easily walk in a straight heel-to-toe line, but they’ll forget the instructions to complete the next phase of the test and stop, completely at a loss of what to do next even though it was just demonstrated and explained to them,” Bogues said.

There is a definite sentiment across the country that Washington and Colorado law enforcement and transportation officials are the guinea pigs in a social experiment, Bogues noted.

“The other states are looking to us. When it comes to public education, I hate to say it, but Colorado is doing a much better job than [Washington],” Bogues told the Leader. “Their campaigns to advocate responsible marijuana usage are exceptional, and we’re not getting that message across.”

TOXICOLOGY

In terms of a blood test traditionally used to determine impairment, “toxicology does not prove impairment,” Bogues said. “We have per se limits (0.08 BAC [blood alcohol content] for alcohol and 5 [nanograms] for THC) where impairment is implied, but we know that a person can be impaired below those limits and be arrested for DUI.”

Blood tests alone are not enough to convict. “We’re facing an obstacle in law enforcement where officers are considering the already lengthy process of DUI investigation and not requesting a DRE; the officer is simply getting a search warrant or consent to draw the suspect’s blood. This is backfiring in court because a toxicologist can show a drug exists in a person’s body, but cannot affirm that it was impairing,” Bogues said.

“For example, a person prescribed Ritalin by a doctor has a therapeutic dose of the drug that is helpful. Simply having blood test results cannot show that the person was unsafe to drive because of ingestion of that drug. A DRE can evaluate the person and confirm that even though they were prescribed that medication, they were impaired by a central nervous system stimulant at the time and were unsafe to drive on the road.”

In cases in which a person is below the legal limits of impairment, the arresting officer must “articulate impairment,” and with drugs other than alcohol, it’s often more complicated to convey, said Bogues, who was a newspaper reporter before becoming a police officer.

With their training, DREs have a unique position in the courtroom, Bogues noted.

“In the courtroom, a DRE is both a fact witness, having observed the impaired subject, and a subject matter expert,” Bogues said. “A DRE can describe the signs and symptoms exhibited by a suspect and articulate why those observations relate to impairment by a certain drug category. This is a unique position, as an arresting officer is not a subject matter expert, and a defense-hired expert is not a fact witness since they were not on scene during the investigation.”

NATIONAL CONFERENCE

Bogues represented the state of Washington at the 22nd annual International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Training Conference on Drugs, Alcohol, and Impaired Driving in Denver, Colorado, on Aug. 13-15. He was one of about 1,000 topic experts in attendance to improve their skills in identifying the nuances of drug impairment.

Among the 220 DREs in Washington, Bogues was one of 18 selected by the Washington State Patrol Impaired Driving Section to attend.

Washington State Patrol Sgt. Mark Crandall, DRE state coordinator, said in a press release that Bogues received this recognition by supporting the training of the new DREs, and for his role as a DUI enforcer in his region and community.

Bogues has been a DUI detection and apprehension instructor since 2010, has trained officers around the state, and teaches police recruits at the state Criminal Justice Training Commission and Washington State Patrol academies.

Funding to attend the three-day conference in Denver came through a traffic safety grant issued by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC), so there was no cost to the Port Townsend Police Department, noted Michael Evans, PTPD chief.

Each year, WTSC supports the DRE program in this state by helping fund training of new DREs, tracking of DREs, and selection of top enforcers and trainers to attend this conference.

LEGAL CANNABIS

This year’s theme at the Denver conference was legal recreational cannabis. Attendees listened to presenters who explained the validity and reliability of sobriety tests applied to drugs, including cannabis impairment, Crandall said. The multiple training sessions varied on topics relevant to the nation’s premier DUI experts, toxicologists and prosecutors in attendance.

Bogues said he learned valuable information, gleaned good knowledge and networked with fellow DRE officers from all over the country.

PTPD Chief Evans said apprehension of alcohol- and drug-impaired drivers is a high priority. Having an expert like Bogues is not typical at most small police agencies, Evans noted, but his knowledge and experience are invaluable to the community and region.

With so few DREs available, Bogues has been called upon to assist with DUI and motor vehicle collision fatality investigations in Jefferson, Clallam, Kitsap and Mason counties, Evans said. Bogues’ pay for this investigation time is reimbursed by the WTSC.

Unfortunately, the PTPD is now going to need to request Bogues’ services, as his last day of work in Port Townsend was Nov. 4. After 10 years with the PTPD, Bogues has taken a lateral transfer to the Poulsbo Police Department. Bogues resides in Kitsap County.

Bogues is one of three DRE instructors in this region “and will continue to work to support the DREs in Jefferson County,” he said.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brandon Przygocki is a DRE, and Washington State Patrol trooper Alisha Gruszewski, who is assigned to Jefferson County, was certified as a DRE earlier this year.

“I am eternally grateful to the citizens of Port Townsend for allowing me to serve them as a police officer for 10 years,” Bogues told the Leader. “Leaving is a bittersweet feeling.”

TARGET ZERO

In Washington state in 2015, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission found that 251 impaired drivers were involved in deadly crashes; 20 percent tested positive for alcohol greater than .08 only; 20 percent tested positive for a single drug; and nearly 60 percent tested positive for multiple drugs or drugs mixed with alcohol.

“Every DUI arrest should be considered a homicide that was prevented. I tell every law enforcement officer to believe that, and every member of the public should believe the same,” Bogues said. “In recent years, the state has set an ambitious goal of having no traffic fatalities by the year 2030; it’s a program known as Target Zero. If we can eliminate DUIs, we can wipe out a third of the fatality collisions in this state. Unfortunately, we’re seeing an increase in drivers under the influence of marijuana in fatality collisions.”

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