Edmonton

Better training means more enforcement of drug-impaired driving in Edmonton

Edmonton police are conducting more than 10 times the number of drug-impaired driving investigations compared to five years ago, but the boost is the result of better training of officers and not necessarily due to an increase in high driving.

Police say more training and resources, not 'reefer madness', responsible for spike

Det. Braydon Lawrence presented the latest statistics on Edmonton police investigations into drug-impaired driving during an international conference on traffic safety on Sunday. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Edmonton police are conducting more than 10 times the number of drug-impaired driving investigations compared to five years ago, but the boost is the result of better training of officers and not necessarily due to an increase in high driving.

As of Aug. 12, Edmonton police had launched 108 drug-impaired driving investigations this year, a 15-fold increase over the seven investigations conducted in all of 2015, Det. Braydon Lawrence said Sunday during a conference on drug driving and legal cannabis, hosted by the International Council on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety. 

Lawrence said legal cannabis isn't responsible for the spike in investigations — apart from helping instigate an increase in the amount resources devoted to investigating high drivers/ 

"It's not because all of a sudden weed became legal and people are using and reefer madness — that's not what we've seen. We know people were using it before," he said. 

"We were just able to get a little more funding and do more training with our frontline membership." 

More funding, more officers

As of Aug. 12, there were 195 Edmonton officers trained to perform the standardized field sobriety test, compared to 15 members in 2015, according to statistics in Lawrence's presentation. 

City council approved $1.4 million in funding for EPS to prepare for legalization in May 2018. In that year, the police service conducted almost 170 drug-impaired driving investigations, a significant jump from the 51 conducted in 2017.

"It's just like any other job, where if you invest time and money into training and the tools for people to do their job appropriately and do proper enforcement, the results are going to come eventually and that's what we've seen with ours," Lawrence said.

Calgary checkstop, Dec. 2013. (File Photo/CBC)

About a third of drug-impaired driving arrests in the first six months of legalization related to cannabis, according to recent police statistics

If a police officer has reasonable suspicion a person is driving under the influence of drugs, they can demand the driver perform a standardized field sobriety test. The test includes an eye examination, the walk-and-turn test and the one-leg stand test. 

If the driver fails, police can arrest them for impaired driving. 

The driver is then taken to a police station where a trained drug recognition expert (DRE) performs a 12-step test. 

An investigation by The Fifth Estate raised concerns about the tests, finding it can lead to false arrests and are prone to police bias. 

If the driver fails that test too, Edmonton police demand a blood or urine sample and wait for the results, about four to six months Lawrence says, before laying charges.