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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Jul. 3, 2014 5 years ago

Police officer learning to spot drug users

by: Tony Judnich

One of Windermere Police Chief David Ogden’s “Warriors” is working on become a certified drug-recognition expert — an uncommon position in Central Florida’s law-enforcement community.

In his training, Officer Robbie Harrison has been learning various skills, like how to differentiate whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol or impaired by drugs.

“He’ll be able to recognize people who are impaired, such as by marijuana or prescription drug use, and how they react to different drugs,” Ogden said June 25.

Shortly before taking over as chief in January 2013, Ogden shared his command philosophy with his officers. His message included, “I believe in Warriorship and that you are all Warriors.”

Harrison, who started his career with the Police Department about the same time Ogden began serving as chief, stated early on that learning to identify drug-impaired drivers was one of his career goals, the chief said.

“My aim is to help him reach that goal,” Ogden said.

The Police Department, which has 12 full-time officers, made 11 DUI arrests for all of last year. This year, through June 26, it has made 19 DUI arrests.

“Our increase in DUI arrests are certainly commensurate with the enhanced training efforts that we have been providing here to our officers at the PD,” Ogden said in a June 26 email.

Harrison is one of four officers from the department who have completed DUI school, and learning to identify drug-impaired drivers will give him an added level of expertise at traffic stops.

Ogden said he believes there are only about 20 law-enforcement officers in Central Florida who are certified drug-recognition experts. Once fully trained, Harrison could be called on by other area law-enforcement agencies to assist in certain cases, the chief said.

In his training, Harrison learns things like how to ask prerequisite questions of a suspected impaired driver, such as whether he or she is taking any prescriptions.

And when Harrison administers field sobriety tests, he will be able to tell if a driver is a drug-impaired one by utilizing methods such as a horizontal gaze test, in which the driver is commanded to follow the officer’s finger moving side to side. A jerk in the driver’s eye pattern and/or a lack of smooth following of the officer’s finger can indicate the driver is impaired, Ogden said.

The chief said Harrison’s new skills will be invaluable in Windermere, which has only about 3,000 residents but sometimes sees between 17,000 and 27,000 vehicles cutting through Main Street — the heart of downtown — on a daily basis.

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