Deputy graduates from DRE program

Sheriff’s office launches proactive investigation amid allegations—

By Derrick Knutson—

The Minnesota State Patrol’s drug recognition evaluator training has been operational since 1991, and this is the first year the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office had a deputy complete the program.

The training helps state law enforcement officers identify specific drug impairment so they can be more prepared when they deal with people who are high on various substances.

There’s also an advantage in the court system for DRE officers because they are often called to the witness stand to testify, and the training certifies them as experts in the field of drug recognition.

Chisago County Sheriff’s Dep. Andy Mahowald graduated just two months ago from the DRE program, but he’s already part of an investigation because allegations have made about the actions of some deputies and officers involved in the training.

The protest group Occupy Minnesota recently released a documentary online that claims law enforcement involved in DRE training have been picking up people near Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis and supplying them with illicit substances so they can learn to recognize the effects of the drugs.

Chisago County Sheriff Rick Duncan said the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating the claims, and he stressed Mahowald is not a part of that investigation.

However, Duncan said his department is conducting a proactive investigation of Mahowald to ensure no misconduct occurred on his part.

Being high not a crime

Duncan said the DRE program is a valuable asset for law enforcement across the state, but there is some controversy about how officers and deputies complete the in-the-field portion of the program.

Law enforcement can’t simply ask people to take drugs and come into police stations to be tested – like Occupy Minnesota is alleging is happening – but officers can pick up people who are already high and ask them to volunteer for the program.

“There’s really no crime for somebody to be high – that’s not necessarily a crime, unless you’re driving or doing things like that,” Duncan said.

He explained officers need to see somebody getting high or find the substances on them to arrest them for the violation.

Duncan said people law enforcement asks to be DRE volunteers are told they will not be arrested, and they don’t have to take part in the program if they don’t want to.

Usually, law enforcement gives participants in the program a free meal and then drives them back to where they were picked up after completion of the testing.

Law enforcement also offers aid to the volunteers if they request it.

“If there are any medical conditions while we see them, we’ll address that,” Duncan said. “If they need help, we’ll provide them with those services.”

The DRE program has been suspended until the BCA is finished with its investigation.

Duncan said Mahowald will continue his job while the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office goes through its investigation.

“If I thought there was allegation of misconduct, I would put the deputy on administrative leave, but there is none, so he is still working,” Duncan said.

Even with the allegations, Duncan said DRE training is a good program and it should continue.

“Even if during the investigation misconduct is found, the actual training should not be labeled as bad because it’s really valuable training,” he said.

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