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Drug Recognition Expert
Montezuma County Sheriff's Office
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Harper is watching some suspicious behavior at a convenience store across the street when a late-model pickup truck loaded with furniture and other items rolls by.
Harper accelerates, catching up to the truck as it turns onto Seventh Street in Cortez. The vehicle drifts across the center of the street several times. "Look at that right there," he says. Harper is specially trained as a drug recognition expert to recognize the symptoms of drug use. He pulls the truck over and asks the woman to step out for a drug evaluation to determine if she is under the influence of drugs. Harper tells her several times to put down her phone, turn off the engine and get out of the vehicle. "I'm going to break the window if you refuse to get out of the vehicle," he says. A law enforcement officer for 17 years, Harper became certified as a drug recognition expert, or DRE, in 2004 and as a DRE instructor in 2006. More than two weeks of intensive training and twelve evaluations are required to become a DRE. This is in addition to regular DUI and advanced DUI training. Harper came to Montezuma County from Yavapai County, Ariz., four months ago to work as a DRE. Since then, he has made nearly 20 driving-under-the influence-of-drugs arrests and numerous drug possession arrests stemming from his ability to recognize the symptoms of drug use. The influx of DUID charges is largely new to the local criminal justice system, which is accustomed to a steady stream of conventional driving under the influence of alcohol charges. Harper says some local suspects are also unaccustomed to being recognized as being under the influence of drugs. "There's still a lot of people out there driving around under the influence," he says, adding he suspects there are more people driving under the influence of drugs than alcohol. When speaking to a suspect, Harper says he looks at disorientation, body tremors, heart rate, blood pressure, muscle rigidity, taste buds, demeanor, complexion, odor, eye movements, pupil dilation or constriction. "It's all in the eyes," he says. "The eyes can tell a big story." He also tests a subject's perception of time. He has them close their eyes and calculate the passage of 30 seconds. If the suspect calls 30 seconds too soon or too late, they may be under the influence of stimulants or depressants. Harper has a matrix chart, with all the symptoms of various classifications of drug use. Harper says if a medication bottle indicates that a drug should not be taken before operating a motor vehicle, abuse of that leads to a DUID charge. "There's a lot of people driving around under the influence and they don't even realize it," Harper says. Marijuana can remain active in the system for up to 24 hours, Harper says, and can turn up positive in a urine test for up to 45 days. The goal of a DRE evaluation is to determine if a drug is currently active in an individual and impairing their judgement. Using a series of tests, Harper says he can identify what drugs are active in a person with a 97 percent success rate when compared to a blood or urine analysis. When Harper misses the mark, he says it is usually because a drug has not yet been identified or a person is under the influence of several different drugs at once and he may miss one. Since 2004, Harper says he has performed 218 full DRE evaluations, 17 of which took place in Montezuma County. He says he communicates with local drug task force agents about local users and dealers. Drug enforcement officers can also be utilized to work with child protection services, probation, courts and schools to determine if individuals are under the influence of drugs. "It opens up lots of doors to be utilized in so many ways," Harper says. Most suspects under the influence of drugs eventually admit it, Harper says. Some are even relieved to have been caught as a means of seeking rehabilitation. Harper says since becoming a DRE, he can better see how drug addiction can be oppressive, rule people's lives and lead them to commit other crimes. "I know if I can change their life around, I just might prevent a burglary or theft so they won't make people a victim of a crime just to feed their addiction," he says. Reach Reid Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org. Deputy Darrin Harper is the drug recognition expert for the Montezuma County Sheriff's Office. Deputy Darrin Harper is the drug recognition expert for the Montezuma County Sheriff's Office. Local law enforcement found this pouch, containing a substance believed to be methamphetamine following a traffic stop initiated by Deputy Darrin Harper early Monday. Local law enforcement found this pouch, containing a substance believed to be methamphetamine following a traffic stop initiated by Deputy Darrin Harper early Monday.