University at Albany

Members of the ITSMR team: (Standing, from left) Renee Varone, Don Terry, Hilda Hardy, Joel Lord, and Anne Dowling (Seated, from left) Jamal Goddard, Elizabeth Aloisi, and Joe Barra

New App Aids Police

Police officers in New York State who are trained as Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) can now enter their observations and assessments of persons suspected of drugged driving on tablet computers, thanks to an application developed at Rockefeller College’s Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research (ITSMR).

Jamal Goddard and Joe Barra discuss the DRE
More than 230 law enforcement officers in New York State have completed the rigorous training offered through the international Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) program. Established in the early 1970s in Los Angeles, the program was designed to enhance the arrest and conviction of drug-impaired drivers. During the evaluation process, the DRE assesses the subject’s appearance and behavior, measures vital signs, observes reactions, and administers psychophysical tests and a corroborative toxicological examination. DREs typically conduct evaluations post-arrest, in a controlled environment such as a police precinct or troop headquarters. Based on the evaluation results, the DRE forms an opinion on whether the person has a drug-related impairment and, if so, which of seven categories of drugs most likely caused the impairment. The DRE documents the results of all observations and examinations on a standard Drug Influence Evaluation face sheet.

The DRE Drug Influence Evaluation input
The International Association of Chiefs of Police coordinates the DEC program with support from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As of May 2015, there were more than 7,300 DREs in the U.S and over 8,000 worldwide. New York State has been a participant since 1987.

ITSMR’s DRE tablet app captures all the data required for a Drug Influence Evaluation, and more. “The tablet has an electronic version of a face sheet which eliminates the need for hard copies during the course of an evaluation,” said Ontario County Sheriff’s Deputy and DRE Instructor Everett Roach. “Corrections are simple, the space for note taking is virtually unlimited, and the DRE can take photos without having to miss a beat.” The DRE system validates the data, generates PDF evaluation documents, and uploads all data, including drawings, to a database.

Authorized users can query the DRE database to discover, for example,

  • when, where, and how many evaluations are being conducted
  • how the DRE’s opinion on the category of drugs compares to the toxicology report
  • the gender, age and race of the suspects
  • what age groups are most likely to be impaired by what categories of drugs, and
  • what drugs are most commonly identified in toxicology reports.

DREs in New York State began using the tablet app in earnest in spring 2014. “The DRE tablet application is transforming New York’s impaired driving program,” said Charles R. DeWeese, assistant commissioner, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee (GTSC). “Law enforcement officers now have an efficient and effective professional tool at their fingertips to assist them in drug impairment classifications. In addition, the state coordinator has access to a database containing valuable information. We are thrilled with the application and the professional work done by the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research.”

After ten other states made inquiries, ITSMR staff with the support of the GTSC rolled out the DRE application to pilot states West Virginia and Vermont in 2015. ITSMR worked with Dr. Theresa A. Walker, Director of the University at Albany’s Office for Innovation Development and Commercialization, so that starting in 2016 ITSMR, represented by the Research Foundation for the State University of New York, can work directly with other states under license agreements to customize the application for their DREs.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 Rockefeller College News Magazine.