Drug officer a new tool for street safety

West Point Police officer Alex Jackson, a certified drug detection expert, shows off the test kit that is part of his standard operating procedure. 

Staff Writer

The growing opioid crisis combined with increased acceptance of smoking marijuana has law enforcement agencies looking for new tools to keep highways safe from impaired drivers.

One of those is teaching officers to spot not just people driving under the influence of alcohol but also other drugs. West Point has one of only two drug recognition expert (DRE) officers in North Mississippi.

"There are a lot of people out their driving impaired and they may not even know it or realize it.

They are taking medicines or smoking marijuana and don't understand they are impaired clinically and physically," noted officer Alex Jackson, a five-year veteran of the department who earned his DRE certification April 1 after being certified as a DUI enforcement instructor since 2016.
"Studies show that 92 percent of DUI arrests involve more than one drug.

Number one probably is marijuana. It's gotten so accepted by some people and people don't realize how it has affected their abilities," Jackson continued.

The tests to recognize drug-induced impairment that might not show up by simple observation involve the traditional field sobriety drills plus another battery of tests.

"We start with the field sobriety tests and then go deeper."

One test that can be done in the field detects marijuana use by determining whether a person's eyes will cross when trying to follow an object brought close to the bridge of their nose.

The effects of the drugs in marijuana not only dilate the pupils but also push them back to their regular positions rather than allowing them to cross as they normally would, Jackson explained, demonstrating by pulling his index finger up toward the tip of his nose.
The officer looks more like a doctor making a house call, complete with a black bag filled with stethoscope, thermometer, gloves, blood pressure gauges and other items.

Once an officer in the field gets basic probable cause, Jackson then either tests the suspect at the jail or the police department for blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and other vital signs.

Cocaine, methamphetamine and many opioids can cause increases or decreases in vital signs well outside normal ranges.

"I can do a series of tests and determine what category of drugs a person is using or might be on. All this has put us in the medical field somewhat," Jackson stated.
The 12th test is a toxicology report which is used to confirm suspicions.

The special training to recognize basic signs of drug impairment are an effort to make highways safer and to identify people who may need help for an addiction.

While Jackson has run across cases in the field in the last two months where his skills would be useful, he can't fully start using them until some other details are worked out, such as a place licensed to draw blood and a lab that can do tests.
The city hopes to have those details worked out when the new budget year starts July 1.

"I think it'll be a big benefit to the city, an asset to the department," Police Chief Avery Cook told the Board of Selectmen recently.