A Seneca County Sheriff's deputy recently became a Drug Recognition Expert after completing extensive training in Columbus and Phoenix.
Deputy Chris Potter of the Seneca County Sheriff's Office said training to become a DRE started in June at the State Highway Patrol Academy in Columbus. There, he completed 80 hours of academic training. The certification phase followed in July at the Maricopa County Jail in Phoenix, where he conducted several drug influence evaluations to identify drug-impaired individuals, he said. After about a month of training and an 11-hour final examination, Potter received his DRE certification.
The day after returning to Seneca County, his certification was put to the test, he said.
PHOTO BY ERIKA PLATT-HANDRU
Seneca County Sheriff’s deputy Chris Potter is one of 101 Drug Recognition Experts in the state.
"I got home Saturday and did an evaluation Sunday," Potter said. "It was really neat to see it work."
Potter said DREs are trained to identify drug-impaired drivers through three steps, which include determining whether a person is impaired by a drug or combination of drugs, determining if the impairment is the result of an injury, illness or drug and, finally, determining the category or categories of drugs that have caused the person's impairment.
Potter said the goal of a DRE is to prevent crashes, deaths and injuries caused by drug-impaired drivers.
He said with the recent rise in drug use locally, having the ability to detect a drug-impaired driver will be helpful.
"We've had a rise in contact with impaired drivers with drugs and not with alcohol," Potter said.
He said that just before he became certified, three of his six OVI cases were drug-related.
"Half of our OVI contacts have an impairment of drugs of some sort," he said.
Potter said one of the most interesting things he learned at DRE training was the effects drugs have on a person's body.
"I didn't realize they had such an impact," he said.
Potter said blood pressure and pulse are among functions affected by drugs, even prescription drugs.
"They impair a person just the same as alcohol does," he said of prescription drugs.
Potter said eight other law enforcement officers and a doctor from Ohio joined him at DRE training, and with their certifications, Ohio now has 101 DREs.
"The class, in and of itself, was extremely demanding," Potter said. "It was, by far, the most demanding academic course I've ever taken."
"It's an extreme sense of accomplishment getting certified," he added.
Potter said he paid for the course and travel expenses - about $1,600 total - out of his pocket and is to be reimbursed through a federal grant.
One of the state's other DREs is at the Tiffin Police Department. Tiffin Police Chief Fred Stevens said the Tiffin Police Department's canine officer, Jake DeMonte, became a DRE last year.
Stevens said having an officer with that certification has been especially helpful in determining drug-related OVIs, especially with the rise in meth and heroin use.
Seneca County Sheriff Bill Eckelberry said the deputy's certification makes Potter the only Seneca County Sheriff's deputy to become a DRE.
"It was pretty in-depth, from what I heard (Potter) talking about the classes," Eckelberry said. "I think it's going to be a plus for us to have him have that additional training."
Eckelberry said he'd like to see more Seneca County Sheriff's deputies become DREs. Potter said because the number of DREs are limited in the area, he is be able to travel to other jurisdictions to offer a hand.
"My skills are available to any surrounding jurisdiction," he said. "If Bellevue needs a DRE evaluation done, I can go do it."