Kennebunk Police Officer Kevin Schoff has recently qualified as a Drug Recognition Expert. Tammy Wells Photo

KENNEBUNK- These days when a police officer stops a motorist for signs of impaired driving, the culprit could well be drugs, rather than alcohol. Or  it could be a combination of both.

Now, when an officer brings a motorist to the station for an Intoxilizer test that computes the alcohol concentration in a breath sample, and it shows the driver is not over the legal limit for alcohol, Drug Recognition Expert Officer Kevin Schoff can be called in to conduct an evaluation.

Schoff, who came to the agency just over a year ago after working with Wells Police for five years, recently completed a two-week DRE course at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro. He said the program included a stint at Maricopa County in Arizona, where volunteers booked into the county jail there agree to be interviewed and undergo testing in the program.

Schoff said besides the interview, there are physical and psychological tests, checks of vital signs and more, which helps him determine if there is a medical issue that can be ruled out, or if drugs may be to blame. In all, he said it is a 12-step process.

DREs can look for central nervous system stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamines, narcotics like opiates, and more. And while marijuana is now legal in Maine, it is not legal for someone to operate a motor vehicle while under its influence.

If someone is charged, Schoff must be prepared to testify about his findings in court.

Police Chief Robert MacKenzie said medical rule-outs happen, but not often, more likely, drugs or a combination of drug and alcohol is the culprit.

“Overall is there has been a significant increase in the past 10 years of those who are operating under the influence of substances other than alcohol, or in combination with alcohol,” said MacKenzie. “We have seen opioid use on the rise, and we have seen drivers impaired by that alone and in conjunction with other medications and/or alcohol. It is very common to see test results come back from a DRE evaluation showing poly drug use.”

According to the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, the Los Angeles Police Department originated the DRE program in the early 1970s and formally adopted its use in 1979.

“It’s a specialized field, with a hard curriculum,” said MacKenzie.

There are a handful of certified DRE officers in police departments in York County, and they often provide mutual aid to agencies who don’t have their own DRE.  MacKenzie said at one point, he was certified, but other work commitments intervened. He said there have been times it has been hard to find a DRE who is available.

“Kevin fit the bill right off,” said MacKenzie, “And he had the desire to do it.”

Being a DRE is an assignment Schoff will conduct along with his other responsibilities as a law enforcement officer.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Schoff of his assignment.

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