Nevada police officer, Sgt. Josh Cizmadia, 35, has taken advantage of every training opportunity available to him to become Nevada’s top officer when it comes to dealing with alcohol and drug-related incidents. He’s also one of the Nevada officers sometimes seen on two wheels.
Becoming Nevada’s bicycle cop started in 2013, when Cizmadia, often called “Ciz” by fellow cops, completed training to be able to patrol, make arrests and all other duties while riding a bike through town. The bike has also come in handy with Nevada’s new agreement to help patrol at Iowa State football games.
More recently, however, the biggest part of Cizmadia’s expanding professional portfolio is his training and work to become Nevada Public Safety’s only DRE, Drug Recognition Expert. He was certified in 2014, but has become better and better at what he does, and more and more valuable to the department with each incident he handles.
Because of his commitment and achievement, Director of Nevada’s Public Safety Department and Police Chief Ricardo Martinez, nominated Cizmadia for a Governor’s Traffic Safety Award earlier this year, and he received it.
“It is always beneficial to recognize the individual efforts of officers that go above the call of duty in their efforts to address issues which negatively impact a community,” Martinez said. “We, in law enforcement, know the officers we work with that do this on a regular basis, but in nominating Sgt. Cizmadia … this is an opportunity for the community to see and recognize one individual who is trying to make a positive impact in our community.”
Cizmadia said the DRE certification has taken him from recognizing drug impairment, to knowing the way each drug will affect someone. With his training, he can now pretty much tell by the way a person acts or looks whether they’ve been drinking, taking drugs or both; he can also tell what kind of drugs they’ve been taking.
He’s learned all about the seven drug categories: 1) depressants, 2) stimulants, 3) hallucinogens, 4) dissociative anesthetics, 5) inhalants, 6) narcotic analgesics and 7) cannabis.
The most common in Story County, Cizmadia said, are depressants, alcohol, and alcohol combined with medications; cannabis; and stimulants (methamphetamine).
“We have seen a slight uptick in narcotic analgesics, which are your opioids (heroin, fentanyl, hydro-codeine, oxycodone and other such medications),” he said.
While he was training to become a DRE, which was a two-month-long course, taught mostly in Des Moines, he and other participants traveled for part of the course to Maricopa County in Arizona, the home of well-known, former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was still sheriff at the time. Cizmadia met Arpaio and sat in on a session where he spoke. “He is very direct. He’s all about having a plan of protecting the people of Phoenix and Maricopa County.”
One thing the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was serious about, Cizmadia said, is impaired driving. “They have RVs that are used for sobriety checkpoints, and they say on them ‘Drunk driving is a murder in progress.’”
The biggest benefit in taking the trip to Maricopa County, Cizmadia said, was to see how they deal with people who are on all the types of drugs across the spectrum. They have high numbers of people using all types of drugs and are well-versed in all drug types.
Back home, Cizmadia has shared what he’s learned with others. His job as a patrol sergeant for night patrol means he supervises three-night shift officers and often goes out to help with drug-related arrests. Not only can he help his own department, but he’s also been called to help other departments in the county when needed. There are presently just eight officers with DRE certification in the county: three with the Story County Sheriff’s Office, two with Ames PD, two with Iowa State Public Safety and him.
“Because I have the experience and training, I can be that expert witness to know that … this officer was on the right track and just didn’t have the experience to say that’s the drug we’re dealing with… When I testify in court (which he has done 10 to 15 times as a DRE), I can testify that this is what he or she was doing (that would lead one to believe what drug they were on).”
So far, Cizmadia said, he’s totaled 58 calls as a DRE. He generally doesn’t have to testify because most cases reach a plea agreement.
Cizmadia has also hosted training for other officers. He’s had three Advanced Roadside Impairment Detection Enforcement training sessions, which involve officers who want to learn to recognize the drug impairment, not just alcohol, he said.
On the morning of this interview, Cizmadia was just returning from talking to a class of driver’s education students about the dangers of driving impaired. He knows a lot about it, because he’s had 300 drunk driver arrests in the past nine years. “I’ve always been told I can smell a drunk driver across town.”
But even as he’s dealing with impaired drivers and people, Cizmadia is human, and he shared that part of himself with the class as well. “We’re all humans, and we tend to make a lot of mistakes. Sometimes we have to learn things the hard way.” He often feels compassion for the impaired people he’s arresting. “I always tell people that hopefully this arrest doesn’t define you … it’s how you move forward from it that’s important.”
But, as an officer, he also knows that impaired drivers, and more and more lately — distracted drivers using cell phones — put others in danger. Even though he loves being able to give warnings for minor offenses, and he’s given a lot of them, serious offenses like driving impaired are not things you can ignore.
“There’s a purpose for what I do. It’s knowing that my family and somebody else’s family who lives here or might be traveling through here has the right to be safe in their home, in their vehicle or on the street. That is a right we all have.”
In his nine years as a police officer, Cizmadia has been committed to what officers do and what officers can do to be better at their jobs. He plans to continue looking for ways to be better.
“I’m going to start doing more leadership training and prepare myself for the next step in a higher ranking position, whether that’s here or with another agency.”