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Trooper determined to find impaired drivers

Trooper determined to find impaired drivers

April 14th, 2019 by Joe Gamm in Local News

Mark Wilson/News Tribune Trooper Marylyn Dickens at the Missouri Highway Patrol Troop F Headquarters Thursday.

Marylyn Dickens had a plan in college — sort of.

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She knew she wanted to be a police officer. She just didn't know where or with what organization.

Dickens studied criminal justice in college at Southeast Missouri State University. But during her senior year, not many law enforcement agencies were looking for new employees.

Then one day, a sergeant with the Missouri Highway Patrol approached the Criminal Justice Association at the university and said the organization was hiring. He said the patrol had a class starting and explained what recruits could earn, Dickens said.

"I thought, 'That sounds great. I'll apply,'" she said. "It just sounded like a good idea. I figured I'd give it a try. The worst they could tell me was no."

Dickens endured a year of the selection process, but the Highway Patrol said yes.

She entered the academy in April 2012 and completed it in September.

"We do a paramilitary academy, so it was very high-stress. Especially in the beginning — high stress, low sleep," Dickens said. "To get you prepared for whatever stress you might encounter on the road."

Six months later, she was a trooper. Having spent half a year in Jefferson City, where some of her college friends had ended up, she requested Troop F as her assignment.

"Coming up here for the academy, I really fell in love with the area and wanted to stay up here," she said.

She developed a passion for getting drunken drivers off the highways.

In 2015 — and again in 2016 — Dickens received recognition for leading her zone in DWI arrests.

She became a Type 2 trooper, which means she earned responsibility for maintaining breath instruments for DWI enforcement.

"Anytime someone arrests a drunk — and go to get that breath test done to show their (blood alcohol content) — that instrument, I maintain those and make sure they're working every month," Dickens said.

She has since been promoted to coordinator over all Type 2 troopers in Troop F.

Dickens is also a drug recognition expert, trained to perform psychological or physiological tests.

If someone has been arrested for suspicion of driving while intoxicated and they show zero alcohol in their system, but their apparent impairment is not matching that alcohol level, other troopers call for a drug recognition expert. That expert conducts the test to narrow down what type of narcotic a person may have taken.

The trooper checks for horizontal nystagmus — or rapid eye movement. Dickens said everyone has some eye movement that is too fast to be seen.

"Certain drugs slow it down enough we can detect it when people are impaired," she said. "It slows it down enough we can see it with our eyes."

In her job as a trooper, she is encouraged to find impaired drivers, but also has to respond to crashes or take other calls for situations that happen on Missouri highways.

"I'm really big into the DWI enforcement, you might be able to tell," she said. "I don't have the luxury of going out and doing what I want to do."

However, since the state Legislature cut funding for checkpoints, the patrol has found other ways to stop drunken drivers.

"We do more saturations now, where we have a handful of officers who go out and look for drunks," Dickens said. "Our job is to not respond to other calls, but to go look for drunks."

The job also includes life-saving efforts when necessary.

Dickens was on patrol Nov. 29, 2016, when she and two Cole County deputies responded to reports of a medical emergency on Joseph Drive in Jefferson City. A woman was performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on her husband, who had no pulse and was not breathing. The officers moved the man to the floor, where Dickens performed rescue breathing and the other deputies gave the man chest compressions. Emergency personnel arrived and took the man to the hospital.

"I just really love this job. I never know what's going to happen," she said. "Every day is going to be different."