Hampden Township Police Officer Matthew Grunden knew when he joined the force that DUI cases would be important to him.
For Grunden, this is personal and proper enforcement is a way to save lives.
“I knew I was going to be passionate about DUI enforcement. One of my best friends back in high school was killed in a DUI crash,” said Grunden, who is from the Harrisburg area. “It turns out he was the one who was DUI. I didn’t want to lose any other friends or family members due to this senseless crime.”
Grunden is considered a drug recognition expert. This means he has completed a specialized training program where he learned how to identify intoxicated drivers and identify what category of drug they took.
As Grunden pointed out, alcohol is a drug.
“What is the definition of drug?” Grunden said. “…Twenty-one words, two commas and period. ‘Any substance that, when taken into the human body, can impair the ability of the person to safely operate a motor vehicle.’”
To earn this elite designation, which is a joint effort of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Grunden first had to pass the standard field sobriety training and be selected to take on the drug recognition expert course work.
There are about 100 drug recognition experts in Pennsylvania and about five in Cumberland County, he said.
“Part of the training is so we get the best qualified officers in there,” he said. “Those that might look good on paper, up front, if they can’t get through all the quizzes, the written exam and final exam, they will be weeded out. It is a very rigorous program.”
Along with the in-class course, which Grunden described as more rigorous than any college work he encountered, he had to spend time evaluating inmates as they were brought into prison in Baltimore.
The training requires properly identifying what type of drug a defendant is on, and that evaluation is then checked against chemical testing.
The immersive training allows drug recognition experts to better read the physical signs and understand how each drug category impacts the body in different ways.
“The different drug categories affect the physical signs — pulse, blood pressure, pupil sizes — in different ways,” Grunden said.
For example, Grunden said narcotics like heroin are the only drug category that will cause constricted pupils.
“If that officer is out on a stop at 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock at night, their pupils should not be constricted or pin point,” Grunden said.
Grunden said officers will take suspects to a controlled environment, like a police station or the county prison, where they will perform an evaluation.
The evaluation can be done on suspects he arrested during his normal patrol duties, suspects other officers from Hampden Township arrested, or a suspect arrested by another department that request his services.
The drug recognition expert designation allows Grunden to testify in court that the driver was impaired and can help lead to conviction even if the driver refuses to submit to any form of chemical testing.
“I want to make a difference with DUI enforcement,” he said. “Just like all the other DREs ... they want to make it safe on the roadways for their families and so forth.”