Two NYPD drug recognition experts (DREs) spoke about driving while high at the 63rd Precinct Community Council’s March 22nd meeting at the John Malone Community Center in Bergen Beach.
Inspired by an incident reported at the February meeting in which a food delivery driver was driving while smoking cannabis, 63rd Precinct Commanding Officer Rachael Kosak invited the experts to present at this month’s meeting. They discussed their testing methods and the legality of cannabis.
“It’s everywhere,” DRE offer Timothy Kessler said. “It’s a needle in a haystack because it’s just so many vehicles.”
It is legal to smoke and possess cannabis in New York State, both in private and in limited public spaces. Only state-licensed dispensaries are allowed to sell cannabis, and the product must also be licensed by the state’s new Office of Cannabis Management. All licensed cannabis products have a state tax on them.
It is not, however, legal to smoke while driving or drive while high. It’s illegal to smoke in a car, even as a passenger.
The issue, Kessler explained, is that officers can’t force every driver to get tested for cannabis use. After exceptionally bad or fatal car crashes, officers can offer drug testing to the drivers as a way to prove that they weren’t driving impaired. But the drivers are able to decline that offer, which they would be likely to do if they knew they had smoked recently.
Another issue comes from the rule that officers can’t just pull a car over because it smells like cannabis.
Unless there are some concrete signs of impaired driving like swerving between lanes, the car has visible smoke in it or the driver is caught with a joint in their hand, officers can’t pull them over for drug testing.
“One fatality is too much; I’m here to tell you that,” Kessler said. “I don’t want any. We’re doing the best we can to stop them before they hurt one of us.”
Testing for drugs can only be done by specially trained offers, DREs. All officers are equipped to test for alcohol impairment, but not all can test for drugs. To test for drugs, people can give an oral fluid, or spit, sample. Blood testing would also work but is not done. Alcohol testing is done through a breath test.
Residents who spot a person driving while under the influence of any substance are encouraged to call 911 or their local officers.
The March Cop of the Month was also celebrated at the meeting. Officer Sean Batt received the award for helping to arrest a repeat offender from the Glenwood Houses who pointed a gun at a traffic cop. The man was also found to own several realistic looking fake guns and two real guns, which Batt confiscated.
Additionally, Kosak discussed crime statistics for the past month for the precinct.
Grand larcenies — which is the theft of more than $1,000 or a credit card — have increased to be the most common type of crime in the area. A lot of these thefts are taking place in or around Kings Plaza.
Car thefts also picked up from the previous month. As usual, Kosak advised attendees not to leave their cars unattended while running and/or unlocked and to not leave key fobs in or near unattended cars.