Drug Abuse Recognition for Probation Officers

Drug Abuse Recognition for Probation

We all know that a majority of the criminals we deal with are substance abusers. But a 2004 study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics put to paper what we already knew. A full 1/3 of all state prisoners were high on drugs at the time they committed their offense. Over half had abused drugs the month prior to their commitment offense. The study goes on to show that 83% of prisoners had used drugs at some point in their lives with the most prevalent drugs being marijuana, stimulants (cocaine/methamphetamine) and opiates (heroin/pharmaceuticals).[1]

Suffice it to say, knowledge of drugs is very important to anyone in the criminal justice system. It is even more important to those working in probation or parole. We know from our experience that they will not stop using drugs simply because they are on probation. In California, a group of officers developed a program to assist officers on the street to determine if they were dealing with someone under the influence of a drug. This program, the Drug Abuse Recognition Course (DAR), became a flexible, modular program that has been brought to thousands of officers throughout California.

The instructors realized that probation and parole officers needed Drug Abuse Recognition training. We began to teach probation officers the same material, but in a shorter version, to assist them with identifying persons under the influence of a drug.

Drug Abuse Recognition Training (DART): The Best Kept Secret

As we bring Drug Abuse Recognition training out of California and to other states, I hear others ask, “Why do I need to know if they are high or not? I can just have them take a urine test and that will show drug use.” While this is correct, it is an easy way out and many other probationers using drugs will slip through the cracks.

The purpose of Drug Abuse Recognition Training (DART) is to show that the person you are dealing with is under the influence right now. A chemical test will only show that they have used. Why is this important? A recent example occurred with a probation officer who had encountered her probationer on the street. She had received Drug Abuse Recognition training and quickly saw that the probationer was under the influence of a drug. Using her training, she determined that he was under the influence of Cannabis. She took him into custody and took a urine test that would normally show a presumptive result of drug presence (point of care test). However, the test showed that THC was not present in the urine specimen. The probation officer tested the sample using a Drug-Check® K2/Spice test, she quickly determined the probationers irrational behavior was due to being under the influence of spice. Had the probation officer gone through her normal procedures, this would have been missed.

This isn’t the only scenario that Drug Abuse Recognition Training (DART) has become useful. DART has been used successfully by probation officers to show current drug influence in a probationer who was caring for children. Using their DAR training, the probation officers showed that the probationer was under the influence right now so that they could lawfully remove children from a dangerous parent.

CSi-Comprehensive Substance Identification
CSi is THE program to identify drug abusers in your workplace. Click the photo for more information.

It also has been used to reduce liability. In California, an officer stopped a speeding motorist, who he quickly issued a citation to. The motorist was let go, but crashed two miles later. This crash resulted in the death of two people. It was later determined that the motorist was under the influence of heroin. The agency was later sued for letting that motorist go. Although this involved a vehicle, what liability do we have when we encounter persons under the influence of a drug, but then let them go and a crime is committed?

Where did DART come from? 

DART was born from the Drug Recognition Expert Program (DRE). The DRE program is now worldwide and was also born in California. However, certified DRE’s must go through two weeks of classroom training plus one week of field training. Additionally, DRE was originally made for traffic officers doing DUI investigations involving drugs. This makes it so that DRE training is impossible to disperse on a wide scale. Large agencies with several thousand officers usually only have a few DRE’s on hand. Smaller departments may have only one… or none.

In the late 1980’s, the Glendale, CA Police Department developed the DART program. Reducing the DRE process from 12 steps to 7, it cut a drug evaluation down from one hour to 10 minutes. Additionally, the modular process of the course made it so that an entire agency could be trained on drug influence procedures. As an example, almost every officer in my 90-officer department is trained in DAR. We average almost one drug influence arrest a day.

Simply put, the DART program was made for all cases of drug influence that does not involve someone driving a motor vehicle. This makes it ideal for Probation/Parole officers, correctional officers, private industry and school officials.

DAR-The 7 Step Process

In order to determine drug influence, you must administer tests similar to roadside sobriety tests. In DAR, we use 7 steps taken from the 12-step DRE process. What did we remove? Things not needed to show an inability to operate a motor vehicle safely were removed. This includes the typical Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (walk and turn, finger to nose, heel to toe) as well as body temperature and blood pressure. The 7 steps include the following:

  • Want more information on DAR? Click the photo for more information.

    Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

  • Vertical Gaze Nystagmus
  • Lack Of Convergence
  • Pulse (taken 3 times during your contact)
  • Romberg Stand
  • Pupillary Comparison
  • Pupillary Reaction to Light

At the conclusion of this process, you can use a matrix on the back of a supplied pupilometer (fig 1) to determine what drug category the person is under the influence of. This will show if the person is currently under the influence of a drug or not.

Toxicology and DART

After administering the drug evaluation, you would then use a presumptive oral fluid or urine test to determine the presence of the drug you suspect. From my experience working drug enforcement, I have found that a number of suspects that are subjects of random drug tests will use drugs other than those commonly tested for. As an example, I have run across parolees and probationers that will substitute methamphetamine and cocaine (two commonly tested for drugs) with bath salts or spice.

Researchers are now noticing this trend as well. Dr. Dina Perrone, a professor at California State University at Long Beach, is conducting a study into the habits of people using synthetic drugs. Dr. Perrone surveyed 374 undergraduate students and interviewed 25 “designer drug” users. Dr. Perrone found that a majority of synthetic cannabis (spice) users were trying to avoid drug test screenings or criminal sanctions, since synthetic cannabinoids don’t show up in standard urine drug tests. Dr. Perrone said, “Most were using synthetic cannabinoids to avoid positive drug tests, seeking some type of altered state but trying to do so without getting punished.” Many synthetic pot users in the study were attending abstinence-only drug treatment programs, under community correctional supervisions, seeking employment, or joining the US military, and would return to pot after the drug testing period ended.[2]

Using point of care drug tests, such as DrugCheck’s® oral fluid test, can immediately show if the drugs you suspect the person is under the influence of are present or not. If the person does not test positive for what you thought they were on, you know to check for designer drugs. When they test positive, you have instant knowledge as well as proof of their current drug intoxication. This allows for a more thorough follow up during searches and interrogation of the suspect.

Many officers will confront suspects with the proof of their drug intoxication to “flip” them. This refers to the practice of making the suspect turn in others who are dealing the drug they are taking. Many great cases have been started from a simple DAR exam and presumptive drug screen.

This whole process can be compared to a DUI investigation. An officer makes a stop, completes a series of tests to show that the person is actively intoxicated, and follows it up with a portable breath test to lock in their dominance on the investigation. With the upper hand, many suspects cave and give up more information in order to gain leniency.

The DAR process is no different. The DAR exam is the roadside field sobriety test and the presumptive drug screen is the equivalent of a PBT test.

DAR Training for Probation

Graves & Associates has been training probation officers this technique for over a decade. We can give you STC credit in California for this course. Probation departments have been hosting this training so that all of their probation officers can be proficient in recognizing drug influence.

For more information on how to obtain this training package, contact Keith Graves on the contact link at the top of this page.

[1]Bureau of Justice Statistics, Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004

[2]Perrone, Dina, Randi Helgesen, and Ryan Fischer. United States drug prohibition and legal highs: How drug testing may lead cannabis users to Spice. 2013 Informa Care

Author: Keith Graves
Keith is a retired Police Sergeant and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for 29 years. Keith was named as California’s Narcotics Officer of the Year and is a prior winner of MADD’s California Hero Award. He has years of experience as a Narcotics Detective and a Narcotics Unit Supervisor and is a Drug Recognition Expert Instructor (IACP #3292). Keith teaches both the DRE course and the Drug Abuse Recognition Course and has taught at the Police Academy. He has developed several drug courses for the California Narcotics Officers Association, California POST and California Colleges and currently consults POST on drug investigation procedures. Keith has held other assignments besides narcotics including Training Sergeant, Patrol Sergeant, COPPS Officer, Traffic Officer, and 20 years as a SWAT Team member and Sniper Team Leader. Keith has taught thousands of officers and businesses around the world about drug use, drug trends, compliance training and drug investigations. He is recognized as an international drug expert and has testified as an expert in court proceedings on drug cases, homicide cases and rape prosecutions. Keith earned a BA in Business Management from Saint Mary's College of California and a MA in Criminal Justice. Keith is the Founder and President of Graves & Associates, a company dedicated to providing drug training to law enforcement and private industry.

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