The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the number of Certified Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) officers available to law enforcement during transportation programs.
“There are no band-aids,” explains Sgt. Andy Graham, who heads the York Regional Police (YRP) Office of Road Safety.
This is because, with the ongoing pandemic, agents have not been able to head south after their vigorous two-week training session.
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“We have been asked to add overtime shifts and reallocate our resources to meet our demand because the demand has increased,” Graham said.
As of March 2020, YRP had 22 fully certified DRE officers to give expert courtroom testimony. Now that number has been cut in half due to attrition, while some officers took promotions, retired or switched to another force.
“COVID closed the province (in 2020) but did not change surveillance. So we’ve still had to implement, we’ve still had to respond to service calls, ”explained Graham.
With sales of alcohol and cannabis increasing, agents are seeing an increase in the number of people driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Since early 2021, YRP has arrested and charged 1,300 people for driving while intoxicated.
Of those arrests, 204 were drug-related and required the expertise of a DRE officer who can conduct field and station field sobriety tests for both drugs and alcohol.
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“The amount of workload out there that hasn’t decreased is spread across fewer officers, so when we once had 22 operational drug recognition experts, now we have 11,” Const explained. Reed Holland of the Road Safety Bureau, who is also a certified course instructor.
MADD Canada says expert testimony from DRE officers is needed when an accused person attends court.
“There is already a problem with detecting these drivers and this problem just makes it worse,” explained Eric Dumschat, MADD Canada’s chief legal officer during a recent interview with Global News.
“There are specific procedures that must be followed for the Penal Code and if they can’t do it, they just can’t do it. What that means for law enforcement, at least on the drug side, detection was already so low that I doubt that many people who chose to drive under the influence were worried about getting caught in the first place. “
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Until the force can send officers south for training, they will continue to reallocate resources where needed in an effort to get drunk drivers off the roads.
“They are making the decision to put other people at risk and I don’t know why. It escapes me why people continue to choose to drive while intoxicated and put everyone else at risk, ”says Holland.
Due to the spread of Omicron and a recent travel advisory issued by the federal government, it is unclear if YRP will be able to send officers south in the new year.
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