Prevention Profiles: Take Five - Ryan Snow (University Police Officer)


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Ryan Snow, a police officer within a large university police department, is our guest for this month's episode of "Prevention Profiles: Take Five." Ryan talks about how law enforcement is involved with drug prevention, the dangers of marijuana use, how he helped a student struggling with inhalant misuse, and much more.
Rich Lucey: Hi, everyone, this is Rich Lucey in the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Community Outreach and Prevention Support Section, and welcome to this episode of our podcast series "Prevention Profiles: Take Five."
I’m really excited about today’s interview, and let me introduce you to Ryan Snow and tell you a little bit about him before we get into our five questions.
So Ryan serves fulltime as a police officer with a large university police department where he educates the community about DUI and drug-related issues.
He is a certified drug recognition expert instructor and has completed hundreds of hours of training related to drugs and the impact they have on the human body.
As a police officer, Ryan has firsthand knowledge of the danger that drugs bring to communities.
He has spoken at numerous national and state conferences on topics related to drugs, and he has also developed training opportunities for campuses and delivered those classes at colleges and universities across the nation.
Ryan’s work has been featured in webinars, newspapers, television and educational articles, and prior to law enforcement Ryan graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in educational administration.
So with that, Ryan, welcome to the podcast.
Ryan Snow: Thanks for having me.
Lucey: Real excited to get your perspective on some things that we are often exposed to, talking a little bit about prevention and law enforcement and how they connect.
And we have a mutual friend.
We’ll bring him up during this podcast.
I want to talk to you a little bit about marijuana use and also your work around being a drug recognition expert.
So with that I’m going to just jump right into our first question.
So whenever I’m speaking at an event or presenting at a workshop, I’m often asked, Why is a law enforcement agency such as DEA involved in prevention?
 As a police officer, do you often get that question and how do you respond to people wondering how law enforcement fits into the prevention picture?
Snow: Yeah, absolutely.
So I mean a lot of the conferences that I speak about or speak at or go to have a lot of lawyers involved, a lot of counselors and other people that are involved within the student range on the college campus of like success and things like that, and then you know, a police officer steps up and they’re like, wait a minute.
What are you doing here, you know?
And so we kind of have to remind people that law enforcement fits into the larger world of prevention because oftentimes we’re the first contact that students may have when they’re experimenting or using any kind of a substance that may pose some risks for them in the future.
And so that means we have a lot of influence on how those individuals see the world of prevention as it moves forward just based on our first interaction with them.
And so we have a lot of chance to be able to change the minds of the people that may have a preconceived notion of exactly how we are doing what we’re doing, and it’s not a game.
You know, for us, we’re not trying to trick them.
And so I think that first contact with the students, trying to show them that there are people that care about them.
There are resources that are out there for them that they can utilize to be able to overcome the challenges that they’re facing with the drugs because we understand that, you know, there’s a lot that goes behind why somebody uses a drug or another substance, and we’re trying to get to the core of that.
And so in order to kind of convince them that we are there to help them, you know, wearing a uniform and a badge and a gun and the whole police, you know, thing, sometimes that’s a barrier that’s difficult to overcome.
But we do our best to kind of get involved with that and show the other people the other side of prevention that we’re also there to assist them in their jobs and bring people to them that do need the help so that they can provide the wonderful services that they provide daily.
Lucey: So you mentioned, something that I just picked up on, you know, law enforcement fits into the larger prevention picture.
And we’ve known for a long time that the most successful prevention programs are those that are comprehensive.
And a lot of times people will think of that as being the continuum of prevention, treatment, recovery.
But I think it also is, comprehensive can also be thought about the different stakeholders we bring to the table and of which law enforcement would be definitely one of those sectors.
Snow: Yeah.

Lucey: And so in your work I’m sure you’ve also experienced there are folks who welcome, you know, the police officers, law enforcement to the table with open arms, and then there are others that are probably a little bit more guarded.
Has that been your experience?
Snow: Well, I mean definitely.
Everyone comes from different backgrounds, and they have different views on you know, what the police, who the police are and how they function and what they should be doing or should not be doing.
And so we have to navigate those seas, and we have to understand that, you know, for me at least my job isn’t about, you know, really hammering people and going after them and getting these people off the streets and things like that.
I don’t want them committing the crimes, but oftentimes that comes with education in the first, you know, the forefront.
And so being able to gather the resources to provide the education can be just as important as, you know, catching the criminal on the back end.
And you know, like I said, the substance abuse in general can be seen as a much larger issue than just substance abuse.
People don’t typically use drugs just because they just love the drug.
They use drugs because something else is going on in their life.
And you know, we want to find those, those sources of pain for them and bring them back.

Lucey: I think you’ve given me a good segue into the second question because you mentioned it isn’t always about the arrest or quote unquote putting someone away for violating a law, that many times it is more about education.
So several months ago I interviewed our mutual friend Dave Closson on this podcast, and as you know he is a big proponent of campus police officers using a technique called motivational interviewing as part of their interactions with students.
So in that vein of education and motivational interviewing, can you talk about an instance in which you used motivational interviewing as part of your work on campus?
Snow: Yeah, absolutely.
 So there was a case that sticks out mainly in my mind just because of the individual’s reaction.
We had arrested somebody for a DUI.
And much to the shock of some people listening, I don’t know, maybe, DUI can cover lots of different substances.
It’s not just alcohol.
It can be drugs as well.
So this individual had actually been huffing Dust-Off or duster from like the keyboard cleaner type duster.
And that substance gives you a very brief high and it can also make you lose consciousness.
So the individual actually lost consciousness and was involved in a motor vehicle crash where we had contact with this individual and then ended up arresting them for the DUI crime.
And so when I went back and I was doing the paperwork for that, that incident, there’s quite a bit of paperwork that goes along with a DUI crime.
And so I’m writing out all the paperwork, and the individual is just sitting in front of me totally silent.
And I got to the very end and I had finished all my paperwork, and I said, hey, you know, if you don’t mind I’d like to just talk to you real quick before we transport you over to the county facility for bonding purposes.
And she goes, yeah, sure, go ahead.
And you know, I said I really just want to talk to you a little bit about the substance that you were using and why you were using it and that type of stuff.
So she started talking to me, and two or three minutes into the interview I just asked her very simply, Why do you think you use this and what does this give you?
 And she started just crying hysterically.
And I was like, oh my gosh, did I say something wrong or did I?
 And she looks up at me and she said; you know, I asked her, Why are you crying?
 And she looks up at me and she said no one has ever cared enough about me to ask me that question.
And it was like the, you know, light bulb moment for me to see this, this college student in front of me where no one had ever asked her why she uses the substance.
She just, you know, it just broke my heart.
I want to help her and show her that people do care, and she had never even experienced that before.
And I don’t even know how long, you know.
She had been using the drug for approximately two years up to that point.
And so for me being the first person to ever ask her that, that just broke my heart.

Lucey: So Ryan, in that situation once you kind of got past that initial emotional kind of breakthrough, was there still a little bit more of a conversation that you had about the consequences of the use or why she was using that?
Was that more of the motivational interviewing piece before you got to the consequences part of the situation?
Snow: Yeah, I kind of went down the path of, you know, obviously that hit a core with her.
Like that affected her immensely that somebody cared enough about her.
So I kind of went down that path a little bit.
We talked a little bit about her family, her upbringing, her friendship relationships within college experience and how she didn’t feel like she had many friends on college campuses and things like that.
And then I provided her some resources to possibly get involved in some more things on college, on the college campus to try to meet more people and things like that.
And then we talked about how the use of huffing and the drug might impact her ability to succeed with those activities.
And she kind of; it kind of came full circle for her because she backed around to if I continue to do this then I won’t be able to get involved in some of the clubs and do some of the things on the college that I want to in order to make the friends that I really, really want.
And so we were able to kind of circle back around and come to that conclusion.
And she really seemed to pick up on it very well.

Lucey: Great.
And the fact that you were, you were equipped with the resources to provide to her, I think was really important.
And there was another thing that you mentioned as kind of the crux of this, the drug that she was using.
And I just want to mention it without getting too far off on a tangent, but the fact that she was huffing, you know, which essentially is inhalant use, we rarely hear or talk about that among the college student population.
Inhalant use, you know, really seems to be without minimizing it among the college student population really seems anchored kind of in the middle school range when we talk about inhalant use.
But is that something that, you know, in your work that maybe not a large preponderance of students are huffing, but is it something that you’ve encountered before?
Snow: Yeah, so it’s actually kind of odd some of the different populations that get into that.
And so like with huffing or inhalant use, it’s very popular in like the club drug type section.
It’s a very quick high.
You’re at the club.
You can even do it very quickly and then move on and that type of thing and it won’t affect the rest of your night for a lot of the people that are using that.
But I also have found numerous times that the international population, the international student population will come over and actually get involved in huffing and inhalant use first because it’s legal in order to buy the items that you need.
And so they can get involved in the, you know, the substance abuse scene without actually breaking the law per se to just buy those items.
And so they feel kind of like I’m doing okay, like I’m not doing anything wrong when I buy this, but I’m still getting intoxicated.
And a lot of them have expressed that they do that because they’re trying to escape the anxiety and the stress that they’re feeling coming from a different country into America to go to school, and they’re trying to use the substance to escape that, that anxiety and stress.
Lucey: Well, I’m glad that through you telling us this story of this one case that you had about huffing, it gives us; we’re taking notes of course during these interviews and I think that we’ll look into some news stories or resources that we can make available on around this huffing issue just so people are aware of it is actually happening on college campuses, maybe not at the prevalence of some of the other more popular drugs that you would think of, but I think it’s important for people to be educated about it so I’m glad that we were able to talk about it here.
I’m going to switch us to our third question which does deal with a drug that is very well known and gets talked about a lot, speaking about marijuana.
We could probably do an entire episode on the various consequences, whether they’re physical, academic, legal, social, consequences of marijuana use.
So many people think marijuana use is harmless, and I understand from your work that you have a story that shows it is not harmless.
So would you mind telling us about that?
Snow: Yeah, absolutely.
So without going into too much detail about it, we had a student that was involved in very low level dealing basically.
And so from our understanding the student came into the world of marijuana at a very low, low-time user of the drug, just occasionally kind of a thing.
And then somebody approached that individual as a kind of an invitation.
Hey, if you sell a little bit for me then you can basically, you know, not have to front the money for your own use of the drug.
And he thought that that was a, you know, a decent idea and he could do that.
And so he was selling just a very low level amount of cannabis on or near a campus.
And so he got involved with a couple individuals that wanted to rob him of the drugs and their cash back basically.
And so they set up a drug deal with this individual for a very, very low amount of cannabis, less than an ounce, and met with him and tried to rob him.
And when he was being robbed, he got very scared as normal, as you would I guess if you were being robbed.
And the individuals had a gun and so when they pointed the gun at him, he got very scared.
He tried to jump out of a vehicle, and I think they probably got caught up in the emotion of the incident as well and ended up shooting him in the back of the head and killing him over less than an ounce of marijuana and a very low level amount of money, less than a hundred bucks.
And they then had to, you know, go through the process of trying to get rid of his body and trying to cover up the crime and all this other stuff.
They ended up being caught and actually went to prison for quite a few, a number of years.
But that still didn’t take away the pain that the community felt from the loss of the individual and the impact that it had on the campus community as well as the surrounding community that they, you know, an individual was murdered over just a small amount of cannabis and money.
It just was very sad.

Lucey: Yeah, and we’re always careful in the work that we do and presentations we give.
We never want to overgeneralize, you know, the situation or statements.
But I think that by and large people think that the more dangerous, if you will, drug deals would involve.
Typically people will think of cocaine and heroin and meth, and I don’t think that they would immediately think about a marijuana transaction if you will, deal being a dangerous situation.
But you’ve illustrated it’s something that started out as probably a typical; I know that’s also a word we don’t want to generalize, but a typical type deal that just went completely wrong very quickly.

Snow: Yeah, absolutely.

Lucey: And so I think that is an example of how, you know, even with all the different things that are happening in our states with whether it’s medical marijuana but more specifically recreational marijuana and such, what states are doing in passing legislation and oftentimes the general public thinking that marijuana use is a fairly harmless, innocuous use.
Your case there illustrates how that it does have some serious; and that’s the ultimate end of the spectrum, serious consequences.
Snow: Oh, yeah, I mean that’s obviously an extreme case, but that also happened in a town or a college campus atmosphere where people oftentimes; you know, we call it like a college campus bubble where people feel like once they’re inside that bubble they’re completely safe and all crime goes away and we don’t have those types of instances.
But that really proved to people, like, wow, this can happen, and it can happen here.
And so we need to start developing different ways of trying to talk about this.
Lucey: Right, and how many times have we heard that, you know, these types of things don’t happen quote unquote here, right?
 And the next thing you know it has happened there.
And then you know, then they have to kind of look at it in a different way.
So thank you for telling us that particular story which as you said is really kind of the extreme side, but I think it is illustrative of the fact that, you know, connection to marijuana is not the harmless situation that people think that it might be.
So I want to move on to our next question.
So I mentioned in introducing you that you are a certified drug recognition expert instructor.
Can you tell us?
Tell our listeners specifically what is a drug recognition expert first of all, and then how might our listeners collaborate with them either on their campus or in their surrounding communities?
Snow: So this has been one of those things that I’ve been kind of talked about for a while and every time I talk about it, you know, if I say does anybody know; if I’m doing a presentation, does anybody know if any DREs are in your, on your campus or in your area?

Everyone just kind of looks at each other like I have no idea what DRE is.
So I’m very happy to get this program out there because I think it is a fantastic program.
It is doing so much to remove impaired motorists off our roadways, save people’s lives in many cases through identifying medical needs and things like that.
And so I’m a very, very big proponent of this program.
But I got involved in the drug recognition program a couple years back, and what it is is it provides law enforcement officers with advanced training, like super advanced training on gathering or getting people off the roadways, roadways that may be impaired due to substances such as alcohol or other drugs, and specifically the other drug category comes into play here.
So when we talk about the different levels of education through the impaired motorist spectrum, basically every officer will go through a 24-hour training that’s provided by NHTSA to identify impaired motorists off the roadway.
And so I call that kind of like the bachelor’s degree.
And then there’s an advanced program.
It’s a two-day course that is designed to teach law enforcement officers more about like the drug side of the DUI or DWI laws and pull them off the roadway, and that’s called ARIPE, or Advanced Roadside Impaired Protection Enforcement.
And then we have basically, that’s your master’s level.
But the PhD, the one that just really dives into the use of the drugs and impairment is the DRE program, the drug recognition expert program, your PhD level of training when it comes to impaired motorists and they teach lots and lots about how drugs impair the human body, what kind of impact the different drugs provide to the body, and then the tests that we go through to try to understand, hey, if I do this test and I see this reaction it will more likely be that this person’s under the influence of this type or category of drug.
And so the long and short I guess of it is I can do about a 30-45 minute battery of tests to an individual, and at the end of that group of tests I’ll be able to say with fairly good accuracy here (I’m upwards of 90% right now accuracy) that the person is under the influence of some type of a stimulant.
I may not be able to say that they’re under the influence of cocaine or they’re under the influence of methamphetamine, but I’ll be able to say it’s some type of stimulant.

Lucey: So class of drug.

Snow: For the total of the seven drug categories across the board.

And so, as well as like legal type substances that unless you ingest them the correct way they wouldn’t impair you.
And so like inhalants is one of the categories.
And so I wouldn’t be able to necessarily identify the substance in which they were inhaling, but I’d be able to identify that that is the category of the drug that they were using and be able to point that towards their impairment, which is great for not only impaired driving cases but also other cases that we run across.
Obviously on a college campus, you know, we want to see if somebody’s been using marijuana or been smoking marijuana.
You know, a lot of the officers kind of just have a hunch or they’re going off the odor alone.
But I can go in and do a couple tests to the student and actually kind of tell them, you know, with certainty, hey, I know that you’ve been consuming cannabis based on the fact that your body is doing this, this, this and this.
And then oftentimes the students are more likely to talk to me at that point because they’re kind of like, you know, shoot, he knows.
Lucey: So and I’m glad you mentioned NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration because that was my first exposure to learning about the DRE early on in my federal career.
So for our listeners I would think, again being very careful not to overgeneralize, but probably for campuses where there was a high, higher prevalence say of driving situations, maybe your rural schools for example, where transportation, getting around by car and such there may be a higher prevalence of possibility of impaired driving.
This might be a situation where having DREs involved in their prevention efforts would be a real plus.
Snow: Absolutely.
And the other good part about DREs is they’re so on top of the knowledge of the drugs and the drug trends that they can kind of help campuses understand what may be coming to them, and so then they can kind of gear their prevention efforts into stopping some of those trends before they even hit the college campuses.
Lucey: That’s an excellent point.
And so it’s kind of; I just heard it’s almost like a two for so you’d actually have the DRE involved in what they’ve been fully and intensively trained for which is kind of the roadside battery of tests and such like that.
But you’re getting to a point where it’s even more just about education about drug trends in general, which you know as we continue to hone our own craft and learn our science this would be another good reason to bring these experts in.
Snow: Absolutely.
I think honestly you may be able to say that that’s one of the largest reasons why I’m here today doing this.

Lucey: That’s excellent.
I’m glad that you brought it up.
So for our listeners there’s just one more, if you haven’t thought about it, another expert or type of individual to bring to the table or even bring in for a session if you’re holding a conference or a symposium for either your campus or your community.
So Ryan, thank you for talking to us about the DREs.
So to wrap up I’m going to move to our fifth and final question and it comes back to prevention and law enforcement and that connection.
In the prevention field we’ve known for a long time that collaboration is key to an effective drug abuse prevention strategy.
So what would be your takeaway advice to our listeners on how best to engage law enforcement personnel in their prevention efforts?
Snow: One of the biggest things that I always talk to our prevention people on our campus or on other campuses about is please just ask.
Ask law enforcement to be involved in that process.
You probably will be completely shocked at what kind of resources or help or information that law enforcement can actually bring to the table when we’re talking about prevention efforts in general.
But oftentimes law enforcement, you know, there’s kind of this feeling like people don’t really want us until they need us.
And so I want; I have.
You know, I want to get out there and I want to talk to people and I want to be involved with the different groups, and I want to help with prevention efforts and things like that.
But you also kind of feel like that guy that wasn’t really invited to the party that just kind of showed up hoping to make friends.
And you know, I want people to understand that just asking us to be involved will give us such a lift, and hey, this is great, like they truly want us there.
They want us to be involved.
And we can bring in so many different aspects because really when you think about law enforcement, I’m just going out and talking to people all day long.
That’s all I’m doing is making connections.
And so whether that be with people that, you know, are also on campus that can kind of bring in some resources and help for us or whether that’s people, you know, actual people that are involved with using the specific substances and maybe talking to them and getting almost like an inside scoop on what they’re using and why they’re using it and where they’re getting it and things like that.
We can really start to steer some of the prevention efforts into a successful mission.

Lucey: So during all of the podcast interviews we try to come up with a simple takeaway message, kind of the soundbite, and I think you’ve totally give us one in your response here which was as simple as please just ask.
With this issue of being proactive, I wrote down also what you mentioned which is to involve us before you need us, which I think is also a great kind of message.
And actually, and please I would ask you to chime in on this.
For our listeners who are law enforcement personnel, you know, my mentor; I’ve mentioned Fran Harding many, many times on previous podcasts and we would talk to different sectors, and sometimes you have to invite yourself to the table and if the community for some reason doesn’t think to ask you.
So I think the flipside of please just ask is sometimes please just, you know; I think the flipside is that law enforcement personnel need to just simply ask.
Can I come to your meeting?
Snow: Absolutely.
Lucey: So Ryan, I really have appreciated all of your insights and your perspective today during the interview.
I think that in the year and a half that we’ve been doing the podcast series, I think you are our first current police officer that’s currently working on a university campus.
We’ve had others who have been involved who are either, maybe have been involved in associations and such.
So getting your perspective as kind of boots on the ground if you will from your perspective is really enlightening, and I and I trust that our listeners will feel that as well.
So thank you so much for being part of the podcast today.

Snow: Yeah, I cannot thank you guys enough for just allowing me that opportunity to be a part of it, and I humbly accepted of course, and I hope this thing goes everywhere and impacts a lot of people so thank you.

Lucey: Well, we have a very large subscriber base to the website which we are very happy about.
And so once we do post the podcast interview it will be broadly disseminated, and actually the interview content has given us some ideas for potential news stories and resources to post online so we thank you for that as well.

Snow: Yeah, great, thanks.

Lucey: So for our listeners, hopefully you also got some real concrete takeaways from my interview today with Ryan, and that will help simply support you even further in the work that you’re doing on campus and in communities to prevent drug abuse among college students.
So with that, to our listeners I will say.