York Regional Police grappling with shortage of drug recognition experts due to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the number of Certified Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) officers available to police services during ride programs.

“There is no first aid,” the sergeant explains. Andy Graham, who heads the York Regional Police (YRP) road safety office.

This is because, with the ongoing pandemic, officers have been unable to head south after a 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 demand is increasing,” Graham said.

In March of 2020, YRP had 22 fully accredited DRE officers to give expert testimony in court. Now that number has been halved due to attrition, while some officers have been promoted, retired, or transferred to another force.

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“COVID has shut down the county (in 2020) but it hasn’t changed police procedures. So we still have to spread, we still have to answer services calls,” Graham explained.

With sales of alcohol and cannabis on the rise, officers are noticing a slight increase in the number of people driving with drugs or alcohol. Since the beginning of 2021, the YRP has arrested and charged 1,300 people with obstruction of driving.

Of those arrests, 204 were drug-related and required the expertise of a DRE officer who could perform sobriety tests at the station and in the field for both drugs and alcohol.

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“The workload that hasn’t decreased is being distributed to fewer officers, so when we once had 22 drug identification experts, we now have 11,” Kunst explained. Reed Holland of the Bureau of Road Safety, who is also a certified instructor for the course.

MADD Canada says expert testimony from DRE officers is necessary when an accused person appears in court.

“There is really a problem with spotting these drivers and this problem is making it worse,” Eric Domschat, MADD Canada’s legal director, explained during a recent interview with Global News.

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There are specific procedures that must be followed in criminal law and if they cannot do it, they cannot do it. What that means for enforcement, at least in terms of the drug side, the discovery was already so low that I suspect 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 redistribute resources as needed in an effort to keep disabled drivers off the roads.

“They make a decision to put others at risk and I don’t know why. It’s running away from me, why people keep choosing to drive disabled cars and put others at risk,” Holland says.

Given the Omicron outreach and a recent travel advisory issued by the federal government, it remains unclear whether the YRP will be able to send officers south in the new year.

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