First published on Vice.com, by Colby Tibbet June 30, 2014
A California Highway Patrol (CHP) program aimed at identifying drug users has been using the homeless as subjects in training exercises for officers. The program has been ongoing for several years, but those who have participated claim that they have exchanged participation for freedom from arrest.
The Drug Recognition Evaluator Program (DRE), for which the CHP is the statewide coordinator, is a training process designed to teach officers to identify what substance a person is on—meth, heroin, marijuana, or just alcohol. Ordinarily people learn this by being college students, but the CHP has seen fit to come up with a formal program.
“What makes the class very effective and in a lot of ways unique is that not only is it comprised of a classroom portion, but there is also a clinical side,” said Sergeant Gilbert Peirsol, the DRE instructor in Fresno, CA. “They actually have hands-on training in evaluating people under the influences of controlled substances.”
Under the police’s discretion, and provided there’s probable cause, DRE officers will pull up to someone who is perhaps walking too close to the highway, carrying an open container, or seemingly under the influence. Thanks to a new city ordinance, officers in Fresno can also stop someone for having a shopping cart on the grounds of probable theft.
Calvin Utley, 25, a “scrapper” who frequents a recycling center near the CHP office, says people are given the option of either participating in the testing, or getting booked in jail downtown. He said they pick up stragglers around the freeway. “They tend to get an ultimatum, whether they want to go to jail or go get tested,” he told me.
Peirsol says Fresno is a prime area for the certification process, and the DRE program as a whole has set the precedent for various agencies from around the world. Trainees come to the CHP to learn the steps involved in drug recognition and identification at a few different sites throughout California.
It begins with a week-long classroom instruction, followed by field testing. This is where the residents, homeless, transients, or anyone suspected of being under the influence are used in the DRE program. Trainees don’t have to go far to find them.
A block north of the CHP office is Motel Drive, a desolate strip of motels, homeless encampments, and liquor stores that run parallel to Highway 99. “The area that surrounds our office is historically known for drug activity,” said Peirsol.
Within the community around Motel Drive, there are some backers of the DRE program, but it’s a divisive issue.” Click the link below to read the entire article…