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Officers trained to crack down on impaired driving

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Members of the Watertown Police Department underwent a two-day training course to help identify drug and alcohol users during roadside stops.

In the past, most impaired driving cases were because of alcohol, city police Sgt. Suzanne M. Chartrand said. But she said the frequency of drugs other than alcohol, especially prescription drugs, has been on the rise.

“Teaching a patrol how to identify a drug impairment is becoming more and more important,” Sgt. Chartrand said.

To achieve this, five city police officers took part in the advanced roadside impaired driving enforcement training held Tuesday and Wednesday at the Dulles State Office Building.

“It teaches the officer the signs to look for and if they can rule out alcohol,” Sgt. Chartrand said.

Sgt. Chartrand said this course is not held often in the area, and officers typically had to travel to Syracuse, or even Rochester or Albany, to take part in the training. She said she hoped that having the training in Watertown would allow officers from the northernmost part of the state to attend.

In addition to the five city police officers who took the course, Sgt. Joseph C. Reff served as an instructor.

Sgt. Reff is certified as a drug recognition expert — the only person in the department with such certification. In addition to Sgt. Reff, state Trooper Gary L. Parker and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy Edmond J. Coseo also are certified.

To achieve this recognition, one must take the drug evaluation and classification course, which requires intensive training that Sgt. Chartrand said was “very involved.”

Before taking the impaired driving class, most officers are trained in standardized field sobriety testing, Lt. Joseph R. Donoghue Sr. said. The impaired driving course was developed to “bridge the gap” between the standard sobriety and drug recognition expert trainings.

Sgt. Chartrand said that in order to take the training, an officer has to have the standard sobriety training and three or more years of experience making roadside stops.

The course will make the county safer, Sgt. Chartrand said. She said she fully expects the number of DWI and DWAI arrests to increase in the city because of the increased awareness of the signs of such incidents, which she said is a positive.

“It’s definitely a good thing,” Sgt. Chartrand said. “It benefits everyone.”

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