DUI officer becomes county's first Drug Recognition Expert


Officer John Koprowski of the Gainesville Police Department is now a DRE (Drug Recognition Expert), making him the first law enforcement officer in North Florida to be certified in the specialized field.

Karen Voyles/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 2:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 2:02 p.m.

The Gainesville Police Department has a new expert in a field so new it has not yet been challenged in court in the 8th Judicial Circuit.

Facts

Required classes to become a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE)

Prerequisite: Successfully complete an approved course in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing.
Phase One: 16-hour preview school to get an overview of DRE evaluation procedures, learn the seven drug categories, eye examinations, and proficiency in conducting field sobriety tests.
Phase Two: 56-hour school which includes drug evaluation procedures, expanded sessions on each drug category, drug combinations, examination of vital signs, case preparation, courtroom testimony, Curriculum Vitae (C.V.) preparation, and successful completion of a written examination.
Phase Three: about 40 hours of practical application, including a minimum of 12 drug evaluations under the supervision of a trained DRE instructor. The evaluations must include identifying someone who is under the influence of at least three of the seven drug categories and have a minimum toxicological corroboration rate of 75% before taking a final exam and receiving the recommendation of two DRE instructors.
Source: Gainesville Police Department

Officer John Koprowski was recently certified as a drug recognition expert — or DRE — one of fewer than 400 in Florida and the only one in Alachua County.

DREs are certified to detect and identify people under the influence of drugs and to identify what drug categories may be causing the impairment, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The certification requires more than 100 hours of classes and is so difficult that only 36 law enforcement officers statewide passed the course in 2011, according to Sgt. Joe Raulerson.

Koprowski, who is GPD’s DUI expert, said he decided to take the rigorous course because of his experiences while making an average of 100 DUI arrests a year since becoming an officer in 2005.

“We are no longer looking just for DUIs involving alcohol, because we are now a drug-dependent society,” Koprowski said. “For example, someone who is taking methadone at certain doses should not be driving because they are impaired.”

While getting drug-impaired drivers off the roadways is a top priority, Koprowski said his training also can help get people with medical emergencies into an ambulance instead of getting them into handcuffs.

“This training means I can rule out medical problems,” Koprowski said. As an example, he cited a driver with a diabetic emergency.

“That driver could become disoriented and have sweet-smelling breath, which is the same as someone who had been drinking,” Koprowski said, “but by using the training I have, we can make sure we get that driver medical attention right away instead of taking them to jail.”

To determine whether someone is drug-impaired, a DRE is trained to perform a 12-step process that involves a few tools and takes 45 to 90 minutes.

In addition to observing signs of impairment and interviewing someone, Koprowski said he would take vital signs like temperature, blood and pulse and then use a pen light to evaluate the person’s pupil reaction and size under various light conditions.

If Koprowski determines a driver is impaired and under the influence of a drug or alcohol, the driver will be arrested. Then it is up to the courts to determine is Koprowski’s professional judgement is valid.

In South and Central Florida, where most of the state’s DRE’s work, some court circuits have determined that certified DRE officers will be allowed to testify as experts during a trial. In other circuits, the decision is made on a case-by-case basis.

None of the arrests that Koprowski has made since being certified at the end of the November have gone to trial yet, so it is not clear how his credentials will be received in the 8th Judicial Circuit.

Assistant Public Defender Alan Chipperfield has experience with DRE officers testifying in court in Jacksonville and said there is room to challenge their testimony.

“The DREs claim to be able to pick out a category of drug, but they are not medical doctors and there are mixed reports on reliability,” Chipperfield said.

His experience has been that after a DRE comes to a conclusion about what drugs a person may have been involved with, sometimes there is a follow-up urine test.

“And that is the problem, because urine is the body’s trash can and it could be moving out substances that were used 18 or 36 hours previously that the person is no longer under the influence of while a blood test will reflect what is in a person’s system right now,” Chipperfield said.

Koprowski is optimistic that his new specialization will eventually become a standard in law enforcement and routinely accepted in court. He is already looking forward to becoming an instructor in the 31-year-old practice.

“To become an instructor, you need to perform at least 25 evaluations and be certified for at least two years,” Koprowski said. “Once I get to that point, I plan to go to an instructor school in Miami or Jacksonville so that I can train other officers in this area.”

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