On occasion in the performance of their regular patrol duties, law enforcement officers may encounter a driver who is exhibiting signs of impairment, but lacks signs of alcohol consumption. This can create a dilemma for officers who do not have training and knowledge in drug assessment.
However, a certified Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) can solve that dilemma, saving time and possible expense of costly resources. Next month will mark the sixth year since Officer Tyler Tesch brought such expertise to the ranks of the Merrill Police Department.
A DRE is defined as a police officer trained to recognize impairment in drivers under the influence of drugs other than, or in addition to, alcohol. If the operator of a motor vehicle is determined to be under the influence of drugs other than, or in addition to alcohol, the individual is then taken into custody in violation of Wisconsin’s Operating While Under the Influence law.
Tesch readily admits his specialty has become a passion for him. In looking at his numbers and accuracy rating; there is little doubt of such.
Since October of 2011, DRE Tesch has logged 140, 12-step Drug Classification and Assessment exams, 133 of which have resulted in arrests for Drugged Driving.
Although his numbers are impressive, Tesch is the first to credit his fellow officers with playing a key role in his success as a DRE.
“I work with some amazing officers who pick up on signs of impairment with other individuals and that’s where I come in. I assist them in discovering what is causing the impairment.
Tesch lists the key traits of being an effective DRE are that of communication, rapport building and interviewing. The same traits which he indicates have assisted him in his carrying out his duties even outside the DRE scope.
His proficiency and accuracy in the field has led to statewide attention, leading to being hand-picked to become a DRE instructor in 2014. Then last fall Tesch became an instructor in the DITEP Program (Drug Identification Training for Education Personnel).
“My job as a DITEP instructor is basically educating non-law enforcement personnel on identification, the effects and symptoms of drug use,” he explains. “Staff members from a variety of occupations attend DITEP training including fire fighters, teachers and nursing staff. I very much enjoy both positions and find it a great honor to serve in those capacities. Education has always been important to me. If I wasn’t working in law enforcement I would most likely be a teacher.”
The DRE specialty has also led Tesch in other directions within the community; assisting the office of Probation and Parole as well as MHS staff with investigating suspicions of persons being under the influence, when requested.
Tesch’s branch-off into education doesn’t stop with the DRE field. Since 2012 he has joined the training staff at NTC as an adjunct law enforcement instructor in the fields of Vehicle Contacts, Standardized Field Sobriety Testing and Emergency Vehicle Operations. Tesch also currently serves as a Field Training Officer with the Merrill Police Department; training and mentoring new officers.
In reflecting back on his experience before his certification, Tesch is amazed.
“It’s surprising to think back at times at how much more I notice now, than before I went to DRE school. Like a lot of officers, I would sometimes suspect someone was under the influence of something other than alcohol, but wasn’t sure what to do. I would say becoming a DRE instructor has made me overall better at what I do. When you teach the material front to back, you just get a better understanding of every aspect of what you’re doing out there.”
In terms of trends regarding those he discovers to be under the influence of substances other than alcohol; he indicates what was once a prevalence of prescription drugs and marijuana has given way to methamphetamine, opiates and marijuana.
“I still see a lot of driving while under the influence of prescription meds but often times it is a mix of prescription meds and other substances. Locating drivers under the influence of marijuana and methamphetamine has become pretty common.”
As Tesch explained in an interview with the Merrill Courier in 2012, the training required to become a certified DRE was far from easy.
“Before starting the course, they told us it would be the most difficult training a police officer will ever experience. It’s so intense and there is no room for failure, if you fail even one of the many exams, you are disqualified.”
To embark on the road to becoming a DRE requires an extensive application process.
As part of the application requirements, Tesch was required to submit copies of OWI (Operating While Under the Influence) arrest reports, a recommendation from then-Lincoln County District Attorney Donald Dunphy and proof of Field Sobriety Test certification.
Upon submitting application materials, Tesch – a 5-year MPD veteran at the time – was subject to a thorough background check, including lengthy interviews with DRE training staff and contacts between training staff and Tesch’s command staff at the Merrill Police Department.
“To even be considered for selection, you have to prove you’re aggressive with OWI enforcement,” Tesch said. “In other words you have to prove yourself. Then they contacted my patrol supervisor at the time, Lieutenant Greg Hartwig. It’s not a simple process by any means.
“Once you complete everything, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in. It just means you qualify, from there they hand-pick applicants to attend the course. One of the reasons I was selected was due to the lack of DRE’s in northern Wisconsin at that time.
As with most any specialized field, change is imminent and the field of Drug Recognition expertise is no different. According to Tesch, what was once a field of specialty with very little public information available has now become readily accessible to any officer interested in pursuing it. The number of DRE’s in the area has since grown to 18; including 13 in Marathon County jurisdictions alone.
“The training isn’t publicized,” Tesch stated during his 2012 interview. “There is very little information available online. To really even learn about the course, you have to contact another DRE or contact a state coordinator. In my case, I contacted Sergeant Nate Thompson, the Wisconsin Coordinator based with the DePere Police Department.”
Tesch was accepted into the certification course in September of 2011.
The rigorous training regimen included a three-day preparatory course followed by two weeks of classroom training. As part of the training, officers are educated in the seven categories of drugs, consisting of; Central Nervous System Depressants, Stimulants, Cannabis, Narcotics, Dissociative Anesthetics, Hallucinogens, and Inhalants. Officers learn about the effects of drugs on the various systems in the human body as well as extensive training on a 12-step Drug Classification and Assessment. The assessment is conducted on persons suspected to be under the influence and takes approximately 30-45 minutes. In performing the assessment, Tesch is able to determine if the person is impaired, if the impairment is caused by drugs or a medical condition and if drug induced; which category of drug.
During the 16-hour preparatory course and ensuing 56-hour “DRE School” held at the State Patrol Academy in Fort McCoy, WI (now held in Milwaukee) Tesch was required to take a total of eight exams; seven of them were written tests which required an 80% score or higher for passing. The final comprehensive exam consisted of a written essay which took approximately 10 hours to complete.
The final step in certification was a three-week “Field Certification” phase, which was conducted in Milwaukee.
“We were assigned to ride with officers in some of the worst parts of Milwaukee from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.,” Tesch explains. “As part of the final phase, we had to test people on the street who appeared to be under the influence.”
As Tesch explains, the easiest way for officers to locate persons under the influence was to make contact with prostitutes on the street. If the subjects agreed to undergo an assessment, any pending charges would be overlooked, such as possession of narcotics. If no charges were pending, vouchers for food were handed out.
“Most were cooperative and we learned a lot,” he said. “They would talk to us about their drugs of choice, why they preferred a certain drug, and how it made them feel. The most valuable experience I learned was just how long the effects of marijuana can last. After a few hours, people may feel like they are sober. However on performing the 12-step assessment, impairment is still very evident.
During the final phase, Tesch and his counterparts were required to perform a minimum of 12 assessments. Of the 12, they were required to achieve 100% accuracy in assessing persons under the influence from four of the seven drug categories.
Upon completing the certification course, Tesch returned to Merrill as the department’s first ever Drug Recognition Expect in October of 2011.
As part of maintaining his certification, he is required to attend an annual eight-hour in-service, and submit documentation of all exams he performs while on-duty, to the district program coordinator.
“Officer Tesch’s DRE knowledge, skills, and abilities are amazing,” comments Merrill Police Chief Corey Bennett.
“In fact they are probably underutilized to some degree. I would hope we can expand this training in our City and County in future years but that has been a challenge. Officer Tesch has set the bar pretty high which may be intimidating to some but I’m sure we will find more capable and interested officers in the future. Given current drug trends it is very necessary to develop these skills broadly throughout out profession. Unfortunately, it’s not like the “old” days when roadside field sobriety testing and our instruments detected the vast majority of impaired operators.”