All eyes are on the Lakewood Police Department as it embarks on a new program geared toward reducing the number of impaired drivers on the city’s roads.
The department is the first in the state to offer a phlebotomy, or blood draw, program where officers are certified to draw blood from a suspected impaired driver. The blood draw will occur in a designated room at police headquarters with the same equipment and procedures that would be found in a hospital.
Three factors drove the decision to pursue an in-house program:
- A desire to increase driving under the influence convictions
- Reduce DUI test refusals
- Reduce the number of DUI cases that go to trial
“Over three years statistics show approximately 17 percent of drivers arrested for DUI refused a breath test,” Lakewood Police Chief Mike Zaro said of state statistics.
That number is higher in Lakewood, Zaro said, noting in the last three years Lakewood officers pursued blood draws on average 63 times a year.
That means arresting officers must obtain a search warrant and take the person to a hospital to have blood drawn to prove a person drove while intoxicated.
In some instances suspected drunk drivers, or those driving under the influence of drugs, aren’t tested because they refuse the breath test and hospital staff is unavailable to collect blood samples quickly after an arrest is made.
Breathalyzer tests only register a person’s blood alcohol content, not drugs. A blood test is the easiest way to determine a person’s level of drug intoxication.
“A significant amount of people are being brought to our area hospitals for the sole purpose of drawing blood,” Zaro said.
Lakewood Police hope by having certified officers on duty area emergency rooms will see a reduction in requests for blood draws, freeing medical staff up to respond to emergencies.
State traffic authorities hope Lakewood's program shows increased efficiency that will result in more arrests of impaired drivers and reduce the likelihood of traffic fatalities, said Darrin Grondel, director of the state Traffic Safety Commission.
The commission awarded the department a $50,000 grant to get the program up and running.
Grondel praised Lakewood’s innovative move at a press conference Thursday.
“The time saved gets officers out of hospital waiting rooms and back on the road to process more DUIs,” he said.
The Pierce County Traffic Safety Task Force, composed of 21 law enforcement officials across the county, also supports the move, Fircrest Police Chief John Cheesman said Thursday.
Washington State Patrol Capt. Dan Hall said his agency expects to watch the program closely.
Six Lakewood officers completed medical phlebotomy certification through Bates Technical College and were certified by the state Department of Health.
Officers haven’t done a blood draw yet, but assume they will this weekend when countywide DUI enforcement patrols are planned.
Officers conducting the blood draw will continue to follow state law which requires a search warrant to perform the blood draw.
The blood draws will be done at department headquarters and replicate a hospital setting.
“The only difference is officers will do it,” Zaro said.