It's not uncommon for police officers on routine patrol to pull over drivers suspected of being drunk or on drugs.
In the process of questioning these suspects, most people might believe there's no way to tell what drugs the person is on without performing some type of analysis.
But in Fort Dodge, one officer is able to figure out what drug someone has abused by performing a process that takes around an hour to complete.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Fort Dodge Police officer Dennis Quinn demonstrates one of the techniques used to evaluate a potentially drugged suspect. Quinn is a certified drug recognition expert.
Fort Dodge Police Officer Dennis Quinn is one of more than 120 drug recognition experts in Iowa.
Quinn said a DRE is different than someone who investigates drug crimes.
"Although a regular drug investigator knows all the different types of drugs, a DRE is also trained to know what effects the drugs have on the body, and in turn what causes impairment," Quinn said.
The DRE program began in Los Angeles after police officers there noticed that impaired drivers were under the influence of more than one drug at once, which Quinn said is known as poly drug use.
"The officers out there were seeing this more and more," Quinn said. "Two officers decided to start doing research and they came up with the drug recognition expert program."
While DREs are primarily meant to help out during traffic stops, Quinn said he also uses his training in other investigations as well.
"I can tell when there's something else wrong, so it's not just traffic," he said. "I've been called to help out other officers who have stopped people and believe they're impaired, but the OWI investigation rules out alcohol as the drug."
Quinn added he has also used his training to rule out a driver who may be experiencing a medical problem, such as a stroke.
A DRE uses 12 steps to determine which, if any, of the seven drug categories a suspected impaired driver falls into.
"Once I'm done with the 11th step, the final step is doing a chemical test to determine the actual drug," he said.
Quinn said the process is similar to a test for OWI suspects.
That involves getting a urine sample from the suspect and sending it to the lab at the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation for testing.
Although Quinn said all the officers on the Fort Dodge Police Department can identify specific drugs, it takes intensive special training in order to become a DRE.
"I had to send my resume to the DRE board in Des Moines," he said. "They then have to decide who is accepted for the training."
After he was accepted to DRE training last September, Quinn first went to Des Moines for three weeks of quizzing. Once he passed the final knowledge exam, Quinn said he then had to complete field certification.
He said that took place in both Des Moines and at the Maricopa County Jail in Arizona.
"Each time we brought in someone we would run them through the 12-step evaluation," Quinn said. "We gave our opinion of what drugs they were under the influence of. After making 13 evaluations we needed to get 11 correct to pass and become a DRE."
Quinn said he's been a certified DRE since late-October of last year, and needs to get recertified every two years.
Training is the same for officers in every state, according to Quinn.
Because of the specific qualifications that the DRE board looks for in candidates, Fort Dodge Police Chief Tim Carmody said not very many officers have done the training.
"You have to demonstrate in your application that you're proactive in going out and looking for impaired drivers," he said. "You have to have a commitment for that portion of our profession and a dedication to work through the training."
He added Quinn is the only trained DRE in the Fort Dodge area.
"It's a wonderful resource for us to have," Carmody said. "It gives us a new capability."
Quinn said becoming a DRE is about keeping the public safe.
"One of the main responsibilities of being a DRE is finding impaired drivers," he said. "Our goal is to prevent them from causing harmful crashes and death on the highways."