County's lone drug-recognition officer believes in program

Since receiving drug-recognition certification in 2014, Lanesborough Police Officer Brennan Polidoro has conducted 15 driving while under the influence of narcotics evaluations.The 12-step analysis takes place at the police station and can take an hour to complete.

Berkshire County's only drug-recognition officer says the training was tough, but worth it.

Brennan Polidoro of the Lanesborough Police Department says he believes helping to get impaired drivers off the road is one of the best services he can provide for the community.

"Intoxicated driving has been a leading killer among motorists for years," Polidoro said. "It was a lot of work — a lot of work."

Drunken driving claims more than 10,000 lives a year in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Polidoro has been called in to assist other county towns — regardless of whether he's on a shift.

"If it's something in the middle of the night or whenever, I'll go because this is important to me," said Polidoro, whose grandfather was killed by a drunken driver.

Since receiving drug-recognition certification in 2014, Brennan has conducted 15 driving while under the influence of narcotics evaluations. The 12-step analysis takes place at the police station and can take an hour to complete.

Submitting to the evaluation is voluntary. Declining to participate results in no penalty, unlike declining to submit to a Breathalyzer test for blood alcohol levels. Not taking the alcohol-detection test results in automatic suspension of a driver's license for six months.

The Drug Recognition Officer program was established by the Los Angeles Police Department in the late 1970s. Massachusetts' program was launched in 1995. Program certification and regulation are run by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Municipal Police Training Committee.

There are several certifications an officer can obtain to gauge roadside impairment: Field Sobriety Test, Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE), and Drug Recognition Experts.

The two-day ARIDE course seeks to provide law enforcement officers with an enhanced awareness of the impact drugs have on driving. To participate, an officer needs to already have been certified in what's known as Standardized Field Sobriety Testing. ARIDE is a prerequisite to drug-recognition training.

Police must apply for drug-recognition training. Because of limited classroom space, not every applicant is accepted.

There are three phases to the program: academic, certification and testing. The academic portion takes 80 hours of classroom work in subjects that include pharmacology, physiology, vital signs and narcotics.

For certification, an officer returns to his or her department for field training. To gain proficiency, the officer must conduct at least 12 drug-influence evaluations while under the supervision of a drug-recognition instructor and identify people under the influence of drugs, all while attaining a 75 percent toxicological confirmation rate. The officer must then be recommended by two instructors for certification.

Drug-recognition certification is valid for two years. In order to maintain certification, officers must conduct at least four evaluations within this time period, submit a rolling log and current resume and attend eight hours of recertification training.

Although the drug-recognition program has been around since the 1980s, research on its effectiveness is sparse and seemingly contradictory. Some cite a wealth of data proving its accuracy, while others argue that there is little evidence that supports the program.

Polidoro is a believer.

"I've been through a lot of training, a lot of repetition, and I'm putting these skills to work for the community," he said.

Kristin Palpini can be reached at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com, @kristinpalpini on Twitter, 413-629-4621.