RENSSELAER COUNTY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee recently recognized 21 law enforcement officers from across New York to be nationally certified as drug recognition experts, including one local sheriff deputy, she says she’s ready to take on an additional role at the Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Office.

New York now has over 350 certified DREs across the state, including Rensselaer County Sheriff Deputy Alida Durrant, she’s thrilled to take on the important role. Deputy Durrant went through extensive training to become certified, over a several-month-long process.

Deputy Durrant feels prepared and says there is a lot that goes into determining if someone is drug-impaired driving. “On the roadside, we’ll do standard field sobriety testing, which is divided attention tests that we take individuals through if we think they’re impaired,” Deputy Durrant added.

“Most law enforcement officers have training in DWI enforcement, but the DRE goes above and beyond,” said Joe Germano, Drug Recognition Expert Instructor. Drug Recognition Experts, also known as DREs, are officers who have gone through extensive training to help other officers evaluate, make arrests and remove impaired drivers from New York State roadways regardless of the drug or drug combinations that are causing impairment.

“The Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee proudly supports this crucial training and I applaud all of the officers for their hard work in completing this program,” said GTSC Chair and DMV Commissioner Mark J.F. Schroeder. “New York’s Drug Recognition Experts work tirelessly throughout the state in helping to get impaired drivers off our roads.”

DREs are utilized by law enforcement when a driver appears to be impaired, and police have ruled out alcohol as the cause or sole cause of impairment. A DRE receives extensive training that has been approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the IACP. The training allows officers to observe and document signs and indicators of impairment within each of seven drug categories including illicit and prescription drugs. DREs can make arrests and remove impaired drivers from New York State roadways regardless of the drug or drug combinations that are causing impairment.

As part of their training, DRE graduates must successfully complete a three-part program prior to being certified. The first two phases include a two-day introductory course, followed by 56 hours of instruction and a final exam. In the third phase, participants are required to observe and identify drug categories and complete an additional final knowledge exam to successfully comply with national DRE regulations. After successfully completing the training, all DRE officers are certified for two years and are expected to meet certain requirements to be considered for re-certification at the end of this period.

Rensselaer County Sheriff Deputy Philip Milano has been a DRE for about three years, he says the position allows officers to treat each individual fairly. “To just provide that additional opinion and articulate the impairment what’s doing on and to be able to say it’s due from drug consumption, or it might be a medical issue going on and you get that person to the hospital and in some cases, the DRE might even say the person’s not impaired at that time and that subject might be unarrested,” said Deputy Milano.

More than ever now, Deputy Milano says with the legalization of marijuana, the job has played a significant role locally. “The subjects I’ve stopped personally, they’re actively smoking cannabis inside in the vehicle when I question them in regards to that, they’re response often is ‘its legal officer, it’s legal now and my response is so is alcohol and I think the public is a little misinformed now that cannabis is legal.”

Officers selected to participate in the DRE program must have a history of being proactive within their community and be well-trained in DWI detection. Only a handful of the large number of DRE applicants is selected to attend the training, which is sponsored by the GTSC and New York State STOP-DWI Foundation.

Learn more about the DRE program on the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee website.