Northampton officers get drug recognition training at Sheriff Joe’s jail

  • A Dec. 18, 2013, photo of then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

Published: 8/28/2017 11:55:33 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Many know famed former sheriff Joe Arpaio is a Springfield native, but there’s another local connection worth noting, and it’s one shared with police departments around the country: Arizona’s Maricopa County serves as a drug recognition training ground.

Three officers from the Northampton Police Department went to Maricopa County in recent years to complete training to become drug recognition experts, or “DREs.” Chief Jody Kasper said the officers attended the program in 2014 and 2015, and the department received state grants to attend.

While a number of states have legalized medical and recreational marijuana use, there is no legal limit, blood test or Breathalyzer for drivers under the influence of marijuana, as there is for alcohol. Kasper said she decided it was important to train some officers in on-the-spot detection techniques to keep impaired drivers off the road.

The three Northampton officers stand among some 139 statewide to receive the certification. 

Northampton defense attorney Dana Goldblatt says the Arpaio connection shows the city of Northampton isn’t the insulated bubble we sometimes think it is. The sheer number of people booked at the Phoenix jail for a broad spectrum of drug offenses, officials confirmed, is the reason officers go there for the training.

“They were sort of a resource for police departments all over because they had so many people penned up,” Goldblatt said Monday.

Goldblatt argued the volume of prisoners at Maricopa County Jail is inextricably tied to the illegal detentions and detainee abuse Arpaio was accused of perpetrating. Those allegations, therefore, are tied to this national training program, she said.

“Just the number of bodies makes them a resource for officers all over the country,” Goldblatt said of people arrested in Maricopa County.

But Sgt. Don Decker, the DRE coordinator for the state of Massachusetts, disagrees.

“No one’s forced to do anything and the students get top-notch training,” he said. “Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is simply being gracious enough to allow other states to utilize their facility for DRE training.”

Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County for decades until he lost his latest re-election bid in November 2016, was convicted of criminal contempt after defying a court order to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants on the basis of their appearance. President Donald Trump pardoned his crime on Friday.

Effective training ground

The DRE program relies on people booked into the Maricopa County Jail, who officials say are asked to voluntarily submit themselves for an anonymous assessment of recent drug use — evaluations conducted by officers being trained as DREs.

“That’s where they send everyone,” said Kasper, who had not been aware of the Arpaio connection. “We put them in the DRE class and that’s where the DRE class sends people.”

DRE Coordinator Scott Sullivan, employed through the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said the program is operated through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and is coordinated by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Some of the program’s instructors are local to Maricopa County Jail, he said, while others come from out of state along with their trainees.

Sullivan said it’s important officers in training evaluate at least 12 people actually under the influence of drugs before they are certified.

“We want them to have some actual experience,” he said. “Maricopa County has been a jail that’s been doing that for years and years and years.”

Sullivan said inmates’ participation has no bearing on their cases.

Shannon Soto, another DRE coordinator, said Maricopa County Jail sees a lot of people on a variety of drugs, and that’s why it’s an effective training ground.

“It’s a large population and there’s a diversity of drugs that come in and out of that jail,” he said.

Both Sullivan and Soto said Arpaio had no direct hand in the training during his time as sheriff.

The New York Times reported last year the eight jails he ran served only two meals a day, while most federal ones serve three.

A Fox10 news report out of Maricopa County stated in 2014 people just arrested are asked to volunteer for the program in exchange for a meal or some time out of a holding cell.

Kasper said she started looking at programs to combat drugs and driving when she first learned that a medical marijuana facility was coming to town.

“We’re always trying to plan ahead and be best prepared for any new changes going on,” she said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at


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