Pubdate: Mon, 06 May 2002
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Will Van Sant


PENNSAUKEN - Police say it's one of the more frustrating parts of the job.

An officer stops a lurching, swerving vehicle and finds a clearly
intoxicated driver whose eyes are like burning suns. But a breath test
detects no alcohol in the driver's body, and he ends up behind the wheel

As part of a statewide push, officers from across South Jersey are at
Pennsauken police headquarters this week to learn the telltale signs of
intoxication produced by drugs other than alcohol, determine the class of
drug involved, and, most important, get convictions for driving while

In police parlance, they are training to become "drug-recognition experts."

"This is truly a thing of the future," said Lt. Thomas Connor of the
Pennsauken Police Department, a drug-recognition instructor. "It's the
missing link in DWI prosecution."

If all 28 officers - who are converging from police departments from the
Shore to the Delaware River - complete their training, they will join 161
drug-recognition experts certified in the state.

State Police Sgt. Mark B. Kolodzieski oversees the program. Currently, he
said, New Jersey has no statistics on the number of DWI arrests involving
recognition experts in recent years, or what percentage of those convicted
were high on something other than alcohol.

Even so, Kolodzieski said, the experience of officers throughout the state
points to a glaring need for drug-recognition training, which is funded by
federal grants.

By increasing the number of trained officers and establishing case law
around drug-recognition evidence, "it's my intention to bring it to the next
level," Kolodzieski said of the program.

Connor estimated that 10 percent of the 420 DWI arrests last year in
Pennsauken, which has five recognition experts, involved drug use.

People arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated are taken to a
police station and checked to see whether injury or alcohol is responsible
for the erratic driving. If neither is detected and the department is
fortunate enough to have a recognition expert, the real work of making the
charge stick begins.

What the evaluation involves, and what the officers in Pennsauken are
learning, is how to measure a host of vital signs much like a doctor would.
A good deal of technical terminology is involved, and some officers find the
work bewildering and give up.

Elevated blood pressure and pulse rate suggest the use of stimulant drugs,
officers are taught, and low blood pressure and pulse may denote use of
narcotics. Flaccid muscle tone also can be a sign of narcotics use, while
rigid muscles may mean the suspect is high on PCP.

The officers are also taught how to conduct a dark-room examination of the
eyes. Dilated pupils may reveal use of speed or hallucinogens, and
constricted pupils may be a symptom of depressants.

"The eye exams are a window to the soul," said Larry Wachter, a state
trooper and recognition instructor.

After the evaluation, recognition experts select one of seven classes of
drugs that best fits the symptoms, and a sample of the suspect's urine is

Traces of drugs are present in the urine long after they are ingested and
their effects disappear. Crucial to getting a DWI conviction, Kolodzieski
said, is marrying the observation of the recognition expert with what is
found in the urine.

"When you have a [drug-recognition expert] at the scene, it makes it so much
easier to get a conviction down the road," said Pennsauken Police Chief John
Coffey, whom many credit with raising the profile of recognition training in
the region.

Once the classroom study is completed Friday, the officers will embark on
what could be months of field training in which they will evaluate suspects
in police stations. A rigorous final exam must be passed before
certification. Recertification is required every two years.

In the past, Connor said, drug-intoxicated drivers may have had an easier
time avoiding prosecution. But as the number of recognition experts grows,
that's getting tougher.

"Those people no longer slip through the cracks," he said.
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