A program originating in Los Angeles to better recognize drug use has made its way to Long Valley, and further prepared two Washington Township Police officers in keeping intoxicated persons off the street.
Cpl. Brian Bigham and Sgt. Chris Bratus are certified Drug Recognition Experts, having completed training to enhance the department’s ability to arrest and charge intoxicated persons using narcotics or prescription drugs.
Bigham and Bratus were chosen based on their prior productivity of recognizing drunken and intoxicated motorists and pedestrians.
Graduating from the New Jersey State Police-conducted training in December of 2009, Bigham has conducted 20 evaluations in nearly three years, nine of which have come in the first 10 months of 2012 alone.
“(Nine evaluations) is very high,” Bigham said. “The most prevalent drug we come across is marijuana. Heroin use and intoxication by prescription drugs is tied for second.”
Bigham said about 90-percent of the evaluations done are for persons between the ages of 17 and 35.
Bigham and Bratus, in order to be certified, underwent two weeks of classes, and then spent time at New Visions Homeless Shelter in Camden, New Jersey for hands-on training.
Drugs were broken down into seven categories during the class, Bigham said, and gave officers information and techniques on how to best recognize use, especially for substances that can’t be smelled or detected on the surface.
“It was exceptional how they were able to break (signs of drug use) down into specific categories,” Bigham said. “It was extensive in understanding the chemistry of the body and seeing different vital signs. It amplified my previous training times 10.”
Officers going through the certification process were able to study and respond to drug use at the Camden homeless shelter.
Intoxicated men and women utilizing the shelter would come in and be evaluated by the officers. New Jersey State Police officers would already be aware of the subject’s drug use, and leave the evaluation process up to the training officer, Bigham said.
The subject would then undergo a urine test at the shelter, Bigham said, to properly assess which drug was used. In exchange for their participation, the homeless persons were given gift cards to McDonald’s, Bigham said.
Despite the opportunity to bring attention to a seemingly ever-growing issue of drug use locally, the DRE program still has its drawbacks, Chief Michael Bailey said.
“For one, the process to evaluate is quite lengthy,” Bailey said. “And we don’t always have a (DRE) working on a shift when it may be needed.”
The program also requires DREs to take part in a certain amount of work to keep up with the certification on a yearly basis, Bailey said.
As for the program’s sole purpose, it’s certainly beneficial, the top cop says.
“When it comes to recognizing the use of narcotics or prescription drugs under the state’s DWI statute, it works fantastically with that,” Bailey said. “The numbers can be sporadic, and I hope we have none next year.”