Florence deputies receive special training to identify drugged drivers

Florence deputies receive special training to identify drugged drivers

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - New advanced training is now helping local officers put people who take drugs and then drive behind bars.

The Florence County Sheriff's Office is using Certified Drug Recognition Experts to help lower the amount of fatal car collisions happening on our roads.

"What we do, is look at where crashes are occurring," Corporal Anthony Fox said. "We look at when those crashes are taking place, what time of day. What we will do is go out and try to put officers on the roads, in those areas at that time, so that officers can look for the violations that are contributing to those accidents at that time."

Drivers who have been drinking or taking drugs are the leading cause of accidents in Florence County, according to officers.

Fox said as he conducts traffic stops, he's looking for signs of impairment, and not just the signs that someone might be drunk.

"We can interview somebody and determine whether or not they are under the influence of drugs. We can determine which category of drug they are under the influence of, or combination of categories."

This means some deputies can now determine which category of drugs like cocaine, marijuana and central nervous system depressants a person is abusing and also whether or not it has been mixed with alcohol or other drugs.

"The training was a real eye-opener. It was an eye-opener for me. We would go out and we would look for people who are under the influence, but then knowing what to look for through the training was really important because different categories of drugs present themselves differently, so you might not see some of things that you normally see in a standard alcohol impaired person," Fox said.

Training to become a DRE is quite strenuous.

Some classes are taught at the academy in Columbia, but the ultimate training takes place in Arizona, and that training is then followed by a test that can last up to eight hours.

WMBF News learned how the deputies use the new training on those suspects they think are abusing drugs and driving.

The interview is 12 steps. You are still doing some of the same field sobriety tests, but you are also collecting blood pressure, looking at the size of pupils, how their eyes react to lights, and taking their pulse. It's a much more in-depth interview. It goes beyond your standard field sobriety test. All of the DRE interviewing is done post-arrest, post-breath-test.

DRE's can also determine if someone is abusing prescription medicine.

"We won't be able to put an exact number to it, but what we will be able to tell is if someone is impaired and if their ability to drive is impaired," " Fox said. "You won't be able to say the person took six pills and they are only supposed to take two. You can't put a number to it that way. What you are doing is showing through the interview process, the drug recognition interview process,  that you can tell that person's ability to drive is impaired, why that person should not operate a vehicle because they are under the influence of and say what category of drug. I'm not going to say they are taking X, Y, Z drug. I'll be able to say which category and they may be under and it could be multiple categories of drugs."

The hope is this targeted enforcement will help lower the number of people being killed on the roads.

"A lot of what we are doing is education," Fox said. "We have been in the schools, we plan to go to more schools and do more public education events through public safety presentations as much as we plan on being out here on the roads doing enforcement."

New gear, extra personnel and of course the training were all provided by the federal government and came at no extra expense for the taxpayer.

The Florence County Sheriff's Office says the federal government understands there is a major issue with the amount of people dying from crashes on our roads and it wants to do something about it.

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