Officer’s certification exceeds standard OVI detection training

by Dan Holland

For Officer Kevin Fuka, of the Independence Police Department, his recent certification as a Drug Recognition Expert will help to better identify drivers impaired by any number of illicit drugs.

Fuka, who completed the three-phase DRE training program in mid-March, attended the first two phases over nine days at the Ohio State Patrol Academy in Columbus, which was followed by field certification in Jacksonville, Florida. The final phase included performing a dozen drug recognition evaluations on individuals. All training, testing and equipment is paid for by the state of Ohio.

“Throughout the training program, candidates have to score at least 80% on a number of quizzes and exams, and there’s only one retake allowed,” said Fuka. “It is very demanding school-wise but absolutely worth it.”

Three nationally-recognized Standardized Field Sobriety Tests police officers perform include the horizontal gaze nystagmus (focusing on a finger moving side-to-side), the walk-and-turn test and the one-leg stand test.

The Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement program, which is a prerequisite for DRE, includes additional tests, explained Fuka. “During that training, you learn the lack of convergence eye test, a modified Romberg balance test and the finger-to-nose test.”

A DRE brings a kit with the following items to every callout: oral thermometer, stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, pupillometer, a pen light in both white and UV light, a state-issued tablet and examination gloves.

“These first three items are necessary in order to obtain vital signs, just like at the doctor’s office,” said Fuka.

The pupillometer is made up of index-sized cards used to measure the subject’s pupils in room light, near-total darkness and direct light. “These cards show a series of circles that either increase in size or decrease, and we match the pupil to the correct circle to obtain the size,” he said, adding that different drugs cause different pupil dilation.

Pen lights help in obtaining pupil size and are also used for examining a subject’s nasal, oral, facial, neck, arm and hand areas. The UV light will illuminate drug residue or particles the white light cannot. The tablet is used to record information during the drug evaluation and upload the report to a state website.

Fuka said a DRE uses far more tools than a standard field sobriety test, which only requires a flashlight if it’s dark outside. “The standard SFSTs are only a part of a single step of the twelve-step DRE evaluation. Our equipment lets us investigate further into the possible drug(s) that are impairing a subject – a standard patrol officer is not trained on any of the specific tools that DREs utilize.”

Since earning his certification, Fuka has assisted other area departments as needed, as there are only approximately 200 DRE-certified officers in Ohio.

“I always put Independence first, but if any surrounding agencies within a 30- to-45-minute travel radius need assistance, I will help them out as well,” he said. “That’s what’s great about the program, because most cities don’t have a DRE.”

Fuka said he expects to see more attention drawn to the DRE program with the recent legalization of recreational marijuana use in Ohio.  “With marijuana, it’s similar to alcohol laws; it’s still illegal to use in public or in a vehicle – similar to open container laws,” he explained. “It’s still illegal to smoke it and drive. Marijuana is impairing, which many people don’t realize.”

“Many states that have legalized marijuana use have typically seen an increase in impaired driving marijuana-related OVIs,” he added. “So, I think more states will look at this program, especially with Ohio following suit and other states considering legalization.”

Police Chief Robert Butler received his DRE certification in 2016. He expects to let his certification expire this year.

“While I was a resource for the officers whenever they came back to the station, Officer Fuka will be leading the charge on the road and seeing impairments or other issues that drivers might have, so that we can prosecute accordingly and take those dangerous individuals off the road,” said Butler. “Officer Fuka will be the future of that program, and he is doing a great job with it.”

“We always want to bring the best training and skills to our department, and having a DRE applies that,” said Fuka. “The training is one of the rarest and most challenging programs in law enforcement. Having our own DRE here will help to expedite the process rather than requiring assistance from other area departments.” ∞

Photo: Officer Kevin Fuka holds medical instruments used in performing drug tests per the DRE program. Photo by Dan Holland.