A Minnesota law enforcement training program mired in controversy last year has been overhauled and relaunched.
The Drug Recognition Evaluator program was shut down last year after allegations that a police officer had allegedly provided marijuana to potential subjects.
Public safety officials announced on Friday they've made important changes to improve training, oversight and leadership and will resume the training program.
The program trains law enforcement officers how to recognize drug-impaired drivers. The 22-year-old program has led to hundreds of arrests and prosecutions, but it ran into trouble last year.
According to documents from the Hennepin County Attorney's investigation of the program, students were required to conduct evaluations by approaching people in the community who already appeared to be impaired. An officer with the Hutchinson Police Department allegedly offered pot to subjects in the back seat of his squad car so he could observe their behavior.
Public Safety Commissioner Ramona Dohman said although no criminal charges were filed, the review led to some important changes.
"The State Patrol has improved the training program. Their plan addresses concerns about oversight and field certifications," Dohman said. "It was imperative that we take these steps to restore public confidence and insure the integrity of this very important program."
The program will have new leadership. The former head of the program, Sgt. Rick Munoz of the State Patrol, is on administrative leave, though Col. Kevin Daly, chief of the State Patrol, said it's not related to the investigation.
Daly said one of the key changes in the program is the field training and certification will now happen in California where the Drug Recognition Evaluator program as developed in the 1970s.
"These improvements address the concerns raised by the county attorney and those identified during our internal review," Daly said. "We will have improved field certification and supervision, better oversight, and clearer communication of the program's guidelines."
Daly said training groups will now be smaller, eight participants instead of more than 20 because of the out-of-state travel, but he said the California certification process is also quicker. It will take two days instead of 12 to 20 days.
Daly said once a new supervisor is named, the program will set a schedule for training in the next 12 months.
News of the revamped program didn't impress Nathan Hansen, the attorney representing six Twin Cities plaintiffs who have brought a federal lawsuit alleging officers in the program violated the civil rights of homeless people, Occupy Minneapolis activists, and vulnerable adults by giving them large amounts of marijuana to get high.
"Nobody's been charged with any crime. Nobody's been fired and we have elected officials, if you read the briefs, that basically say, 'Yeah, we did all that and that's just fine because we're immune,' " Hansen said.
Hansen said next hearing in the civil case is expected in late summer.