DuBOIS — Since becoming a police officer, driving-under-the-influence enforcement has always been of interest to Officer Lance Thompson of the DuBois City Police Department and motivated him to seek additional training with the hope that it might save lives.
On June 19, Thompson completed intensive training in the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program (DECP) to become certified as a Drug Recognition Expert. DREs are trained to recognize when an individual has been driving under the influence of drugs and to identify the type of drug causing impairment.
“Becoming a Drug Recognition Expert takes DUI enforcement to another level, allowing me to understand when someone is under the influence of drugs or if their impairment could be a medical concern,” Thompson said. “Being able to distinguish the difference is very important, not only in terms of driving intoxicated and removing those individuals from the roadway, but interactions with our community in general. We often receive calls for individuals who would appear intoxicated to an untrained person, but it’s really a medical issue causing the person’s behavior and we’re able to get those individuals medical treatment quickly by understanding the body and what is going on within it.”
The DECP was developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and approved by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). The Pennsylvania DECP was initiated in 2004. Upon completion of their initial training, officers are certified as DREs and become far more effective in identifying drug-impaired individuals.
The Pennsylvania DECP will assist police officers in identifying the drug-impaired individual. Although the focus of the DRE curricula is on the identification of the drug-impaired driver, DRE skills are applied to many different law enforcement objectives. For example, DREs are frequently called upon to differentiate between drug influence and medical and/or mental disorders. Certified DREs are a valuable resource in combating the adverse impact of drugs in the communities they serve.
Thompson said the course was demanding but his class completed all training in a total of three weeks, one of the quickest since the program started.
“Memorization is a big part of the class, as we need to be able to recall information about how specific categories of drugs will affect a person’s blood pressure, pulse rate, pupil size, etc.,” said Thompson. “Being around a group of like-minded individuals was a big help, as we studied together every night and shared ideas on ways to recall information.”
The most challenging part of the training for Thompson was memorization of the drug matrix card. He said it has two sides that pertain to each of the seven drug categories. One part of the final exam was recreating the matrix card, which is approximately 241 individual answers that have to be filled in exactly and without error.
“Learning how to administer the 12-Step process and everything that goes with it was a lot of fun and very interesting for me, as it’s something I’ve always gravitated toward,” said Thompson. “Being able to see and understand how different drugs affect the human body and then actually see those effects in person while in Philadelphia was a great experience.”
To receive certification as a DRE, two phases of training must be completed — the academic portion (72 classroom hours) and a certification phase.
After completing the academic portion, Thompson and his class traveled to Philadelphia to a facility located on Kensington Avenue, which is located in the heart of Philadelphia’s drug crisis, to complete the certification phase.
Thompson said he is grateful for the opportunity the police department gave him and he’s proud to have this certification. There are approximately 225 trained DREs across Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
“It’s a valuable resource for our department and surrounding agencies to utilize and I’m happy to be a part of the small group of police officers that have completed it,” said Thompson. “I just hope I can be a reliable resource for the area. It’s a certification that allows me to assist different agencies should they need me.”
Thompson said he also likes teaching and has given informational presentations at Penn State DuBois, as well as assisted with impaired driving courses, and he hopes to continue to do that as well.
DuBois Police Chief Blaine Clark said Thompson’s achievement is another example of the war against illegal drugs that Clark pledged to attack when he was appointed to the chief position for the city.
“Officer Thompson’s willingness and ability to obtain such a grueling and prestigious certification speaks volumes about his commitment and attitude to serve his department and the community,” Clark said. “Officer Thompson is a very intelligent and committed officer that has the ability to police with professionalism and commonsense.
“With Officer Thompson’s certification, training and professional drive, along with the K-9 that we now have on the streets of the City of DuBois, I feel that we are making great strides and the citizens of the city should start to feel more at ease,” said Clark. “But with that being said we still need the ongoing support and information that our great community provides us with daily.”
DRE certification is valid for two years. In order to maintain certification, DREs must conduct a minimum of four evaluations within this time period, submit a rolling log, submit a curriculum vitae, teach a minimum of eight hours of DUI-related material, and attend eight hours of recertification training.
Thompson graduated from the Allegheny County Police Academy in December of 2012 and began his career part-time with the Clearfield Borough Police Department for a few months before getting his first full-time position with the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh. He has been a full-time patrol officer with the City of DuBois for slightly more than six years.
Thompson said the overall dynamics of the job was a big part of what made him want to become a police officer.
“The environment is always changing and the calls are always different,” Thompson said. “Being able to help people and interact with the community has been a lot of fun.”
Thompson, when asked what he likes most about being in law enforcement, said he thinks police officers in general have a great opportunity to change people’s perspective and outlook on life.
“Being able to actually help people when in need, being able to see changes in people’s lives that are dealing with drug dependency or helping victims get through whatever the current situation is for them, is a rewarding experience,” he said. “And letting kids hit the buttons in the car is always cool too.”