Drug Recognition Experts – DREs and DWIs in North Carolina – Part II

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In my previous post, I gave an overview of what Drug Recognition Experts are supposed to be able to detect. Let’s look at the history of the program.

The program was developed in 1979 in the Los Angeles Police Department by two sergeants, Dick Studdard, a traffic officer, and Len Leeds, a narcotics officer. According to the student manual, they undertook independent research by consulting with physicians, enrolling in relevant courses, studying textbooks and technical articles in order to identify a quick an easy way for officers to identify the drugs (other than alcohol) that may cause impairment in drivers.

Unfortunately, no actual experts were consulted in the actual construction of the program and the program has very little scientific rigor (more about that later).

The program received official recognition by the LAPD in 1979, and in the 1980s NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police became involved.

NHTSA is the primary funding agency behind the DRE, also known as the DEC program. IACP, based in Alexandria, Virginia, is the organization that actual administers the program.

The student handbook on DREs claims that “[p]roof of the effectiveness of the DEC program began to be accumulated from the very outset of the program.” But that proof is circular – arrests and convictions are used to claim proof that impairment was proven, when in fact arrests and convictions were probably the consequence of other factors and not an accurate detection of impairment by DREs.

No peer-reviewed studies have ever been conducted in support of the DRE program. And few scientists have ever found the program to be effective. Support for the program has been mostly generated by the IACP and NHTSA, without regard to its scientific reliability, as we’ll explain in future posts.

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