Monday, September 22, 2014
Bensalem opens first in-house blood testing lab for DUI suspects
Posted: Monday, September 15, 2014
Most Bucks County police departments test the blood of all suspected intoxicated drivers. Bensalem didn't.
Bensalem police used blood tests — considered the gold standard in DUI testing — only when a driver was suspected of driving under the influence of drugs, township's Director of Public Safety Fred Harran said.
When an officer believed alcohol was involved, the suspect would undergo a breathalyzer test at police headquarters.
The reason for the different tests was time, Harran said. Hospital blood tests take an officer off the street for 90 minutes, while a breathalyzer takes much less time.
Now the department doesn’t have to choose between the tests.
Recently Harran brought the blood testing to police headquarters, becoming the first in the county to operate an in-house phlebotomy lab.
Paramedics with the Bensalem Emergency Rescue Services will draw and test the blood in a room where police once performed breathalyzer tests. A breathalyzer calculates the concentration of alcohol exhaled from the lungs, but its accuracy often is scrutinized by defense attorneys and it's useless if a person is under the influence of drugs.
Bensalem paramedics will be notified when police need blood drawn through the county radio room, said Tom Topley, the squad’s executive director. He added that 911 calls will take priority over police calls for blood draws.
During the past few weeks, paramedics have taken blood three times and the testing has taken no longer than 12 minutes, Topley said. He added on occasions a paramedic will be assigned for the duration of an operation, such as a DUI checkpoint.
Bucks County Chief of Prosecution Matt Weintraub called the idea of an in-house blood testing lab a great one as long as the individuals drawing the blood have the proper certification.
The one-stop nature of Bensalem’s blood testing will also eliminate the need for prosecutors to require hospital workers that draw or handle the blood to appear at trial to testify.
“It will really streamline chain of custody (of the blood evidence) and it will help us with witnesses,” Weintraub said.
Harran anticipates an increase in DUI arrests with the in-house blood draws because, he believes, more drivers who are stopped are using illegal or prescription drugs or drug-alcohol combinations.
"Now we only have to bring a prisoner once, right into headquarters, to take their blood right here," Harran said. "We don't have to go to a hospital and jeopardize safety in the hospital, the safety of the prisoner or the safety of the officer."