ENFIELD, CT (WFSB) - Police are warning that drug related crashes are on the rise here in Connecticut and around the country.
Fortunately, a small team of elite law enforcement agents called Drug Recognition Experts or DRE’s are trained to catch up with intoxicated drivers and take them off the streets.
The DRE we rode shotgun with tells us his daughters feel like he has super powers.
Within minutes he can tell if someone is on drugs.
But his skills are grounded in science, not magic.
The problem is there are too many people who are intoxicated behind the wheel and not enough DRE’s on the road.
Hartford police only needed a few minutes to gather enough information to charge a woman with a DUI after a serious crash.
But investigators say in this era of increased drug abuse, it's not always this easy.
That’s where men and women like Officer Pete Nisyrios come in.
The Enfield officer is a member of a small elite group of investigators with a not so secret mission, identify drug impaired drivers.
“It’s definitely a good feeling to get them off the road,” said Nisyrios.
Nisyrios is one of just 53 Drug Recognition Experts in the state, investigators with specialized training that allows them to identify intoxicants that can't always be captured in a standard sobriety test.
“Roger, what I’m going to have you do first is stand with your feet together just like this, hands down on your side,” said Nisyrios.
Nisyrios walked reporter Roger Susanin through a small portion of his intensive 12 step test to identify intoxicated drivers.
“I’m going to do two circles and then I’m going to bring the pen into your nose, I’m not going to touch your nose,” Nisyrios said.
The process takes about an hour.
“Tilt your head back. Tilt your head back more. Close your eyes,” said Nisyrios.
It includes extensive analysis of everything from the driver's pupil response to their pulse, body temperature, breath, skin, coordination, speech, you name it.
“After we take all that we make our opinion as far as what drug category was active during our impairment,” Nisyrios said.
Nisyrios has been a DRE for four years and says in that time period a blood or urine test has verified his analysis after all of his DUI arrests.
He credits his training and says other DRE’s in the state have produced similar results.
“The DRE program in CT has excelled and it's going to continue to excel because we have DRE’s that enjoy what they do,” said Nisyrios.
The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association warns there is dramatic DRE shortage in our state, especially considering prescription drugs are the most commonly detected intoxicants involved in deadly wrecks according to AAA.
“They’re a huge asset for Connecticut law enforcement and I was very pleased to find the Enfield Police Department has one when I got here,” said Chief Alaric Fox, Enfield Police Department.
Enfield Chief Alaric Fox says he'd love to have more DRE’s but it's difficult.
The program is expensive and perhaps more importantly takes an officer off the streets for nearly a month while they train in two different states.
“The officers job responsibilities have to be backfilled, so we wind up essentially with a double price tag associated with this training. It’s important but it does come at an expense,” said Fox.
Nisyrios understands the challenges, but as opioid abuse continues to spiral out of control and nearby states approve recreational marijuana he hopes his elite fraternity continues to grow.
“The state would benefit from more DRE’s,” said Nisyrios.
Nisyrios believes in the end, DRE’s are worth the expense because you can't put a price tag on keeping intoxicated drivers “I want to make sure when your family is going down to dinner there's not somebody out there that was at dinner but had too much and shouldn't be on the road,” Nisyrios said.
Nisyrios is the only DRE with the Enfield Police Department, but the town is actually in a better position than many communities of a similar size.
The large majority of Connecticut towns don't have any DRE’s and even larger cities typically don't have more than two or three.