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DRE Training and Certification

Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) training is probably the most rigorous academic training that any law enforcement officer can undertake. Only selected experienced officers are allowed to enroll in the course. In order to attend DRE training, the candidate is typically nominated in writing by the officer's commanding officer. Some agencies, such as the Los Angeles Police Department, require the candidate to submit a formal application form, while other agencies may require the candidate to appear for an oral interview. The criteria for selection include a demonstrated aptitude and interest in DUI enforcement and/or narcotics enforcement.41 Candidates must also have demonstrated an ability to conduct thorough crime scene investigations, and to testify clearly and convincingly in court.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) is the regulating and certifying body for the Drug Recognition Expert program. The IACP establishes minimum standards for all phases of DRE training, including recertification.42

DRE training and eventual certification by the IACP consists of the following criteria:

1. Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) training
2. DRE preliminary training
3. DRE School
4. DRE School Classroom Examination
5. Minimum number of evaluations
6. Minimum number of drug categories observed
7. Toxicological corroboration
8. "Rolling" log reviewed
9. Resume reviewed
10. Certification final examination
11. Endorsement by an instructor
12. Endorsement by a second instructor
13. Certification by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Criterion One: Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) Training

Although there are a number of formats for this first phase of DRE training, the usual format consists of two days of training in the proper administration and interpretation of the standardized field sobriety test battery. This segment is primarily skill-oriented. Students practice administering the SFST on volunteers who consume alcohol. In order to complete this phase, students must successfully pass both a written examination and a proficiency test. SFST training is a "stand-alone" course, in that most officers who complete SFST training never continue into DRE training. This phase of the training may also include an introductory overview of the drugs that impair driving.

Criterion Two: DRE Preliminary Training

Following the SFST training, officers that will continue with DRE training must successfully complete a two day DRE preliminary training course. This course expands upon the officers' SFST skills, provides an overview of the DRE procedures, and provides an overview of the effects of the drugs of abuse. In this segment, officers are also taught to properly administer the vital signs examinations that are conducted in a DRE evaluation. Some agencies combine the SFST and DRE preliminary training into a unified four-day course. The LAPD also conducts an accelerated ten-day format that combines SFST training, DRE Preliminary Training, and the DRE course itself into one unified ten-day training event.

Criterion Three: DRE School

This segment of the training consists of seven classroom days of intensive training. There are 31 separate segments to the course. Some of the specific segments are: the physiology of the drugs of abuse, the development and effectiveness of the DRE procedures, vital signs examinations, eye examinations, courtroom testimony, and drug combinations. Each of the seven categories of drugs are covered in depth. Commonly abused substances, methods of administration, and the duration of effects are extensively covered. Students view video-tapes of individuals under the influence of the various categories, and participate in many interpretative exercises. Students also practice the administration of the DRE procedure while under the direct supervision of DRE instructors. Students are tested throughout this phase. Under the guidelines established for DRE training by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, students cannot "test-out" of any of the segments of the course, and must make-up any missed classes.

Criterion Four: DRE School Examination

At the conclusion of the DRE school, students take a comprehensive written objective examination. Eighty percent is the minimum passing score.

Criterion Five: Minimum number of evaluations

This stage begins the certification phase of DRE training. Much like an internship, the student must demonstrate his or her proficiency in properly conducting and interpreting DRE evaluations that are given to actual suspects. The minimum national standards require the DRE student to conduct 12 full drug evaluations. Many agencies, including the LAPD, require 15 evaluations. Some of the required evaluations may include medical rule-outs, and evaluations in which no drug influence was determined by the DRE student. All of the evaluations during this phase must be conducted under the direct supervision of a DRE instructor.

Criterion Six: Minimum number of drug categories observed

Student DREs must evaluate individuals who are under the influence of at least three of the seven categories of drugs. (The LAPD and many other agencies require four drug categories.) The student DRE must correctly conduct the evaluations, and must reach appropriate conclusions. All three drug categories must be supported by toxicology.

Criterion Seven: Toxicological corroboration

During certification, student DREs must submit a minimum of nine physical specimens, blood or urine, to a laboratory for analysis. The laboratory analysis is compared to the student DRE's opinion as to the type of drug influencing the individual. The student must achieve a 75% laboratory confirmation rate. This means that at least 75% of the samples submitted to the laboratory must result in the laboratory finding a drug belonging to the category the student DRE identified.43 A 75% standard does not mean that the student can be wrong 25% of the time. A student's opinion must always be supported by the individual's presenting signs and symptoms. It does allow, however, for those instances in which the laboratory is not able to detect the type of drug the student DRE had identified.

Criterion Eight: "Rolling" log reviewed

All DREs must maintain a log of all the evaluations, including toxicological results, they have conducted. This log is then submitted to a DRE instructor for review. This log is critical in establishing the DRE's expertise in court, as in documenting DRE experience for recertification.

Criterion Nine: Resume reviewed

Each DRE must maintain an up-to-date resume. This resume should list the training the DRE has received, additional readings, court qualifications, formal education, publications, and other relevant experiences. As is the case with the "rolling" log, the primary purpose of the resume is to enhance the credibility and consistency of the DRE when testifying in court. This resume must be presented for review by a DRE instructor. A copy of the resume is maintained by an agency's DRE coordinator.

Criterion Ten: Certification Final Examination

This comprehensive written examination is given when the student DRE is approaching the conclusion of certification training. This examination, which typically takes from between three and six hours, requires the student DRE to articulate the signs and symptoms of the various drugs, including numerous drug combinations. The examination is scored on a pass-fail basis by a DRE instructor. This examination is similar in concept to examinations given in graduate school that require the student to demonstrate knowledge of all aspects of drug effects.

Criterion Eleven: Endorsement by an instructor

The student DRE is required to secure in writing the recommendation of a DRE instructor stating that the student should be awarded certification. Only DRE instructors that have actually supervised the student DRE may endorse the student.

Criterion Twelve: Endorsement by a second instructor

This step requires the written endorsement of a second DRE instructor.

Criterion Thirteen: Certification by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Once criteria one through twelve have been completed, the student DRE submits all the required documentation to the agency's DRE coordinator. After reviewing the completed package, the agency coordinator approves and submits certification documents to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) through a state coordinator. A tracking number is assigned to the DRE, and certificates are issued to the new DRE by the IACP. Certification is for a two year period.

Recertification and Continuing Education

In order to maintain certification, the DRE must attend a minimum of eight hours of continuing education training every two years. Many agencies require a minimum of eight hours of continuing education annually 44. Typically, the continuing education includes reviewing and practicing the DRE procedures, case law, toxicological issues, and an update on new drugs and drug use trends. The DRE must also have conducted a minimum of four drug influence evaluations during this period, one of which is directly supervised by a DRE instructor.

The IACP has also adopted continuing education requirements for DRE instructors.


The Drug Recognition Expert Program grew out of the need that law enforcement recognized: a need to better identify, apprehend, and prosecute the drug-impaired driver. From its humble beginnings in Los Angeles, law enforcement agencies in 33 American states have adopted the DRE Program. As the new millennia approaches, traffic enforcement officers from other countries are increasingly recognizing that the DRE approach may be a solution in part to the drug problem in their communities.

In 1995, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police hosted the first DRE training to be held outside of the United States. Canadian officers from British Columbia are now applying DRE to the Canadian drugged-driver problem. A successful Canadian DRE program will undoubtedly increase world-wide interest in the DRE approach, a user-accountable response to drugged-driving.


41In California, it is illegal to be under the influence of several specified controlled substances (heroin, cocaine, PCP, methamphetamine and others). This law (11550 Health and Safety Code) empowers officers to arrest individuals anywhere when they are under the influence of the proscribed drugs. Driving is not an element of this offense.

The IACP relies upon a Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) in matters pertaining to DRE training, curricula, and certification. TAP includes representatives from the fields of prosecution, toxicology, law enforcement, and medicine.

43This standard was originally recommended by a nationwide panel of toxicologists that was selected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

44Some states and agencies have adopted more stringent requirements for recertification.