Lakewood police are the first in the state to train officers to take blood draws from suspected impaired drivers.
Officials said the program will speed the process so officers can return to patrolling the streets quicker and help with the prosecution of drunken driving, which can be proved only with a blood test.
“This eliminates the need to bring the arrested drivers to the hospital, thereby eliminating the drain on hospital resources, eliminating potential delays and eliminating the involvement of non-police personnel in the arrest process,” Police Chief Mike Zaro said.
The program was launched Friday night with a regional DUI emphasis patrol.
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Paid for by a $50,000 grant from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, it could help guide other agencies in the state that have expressed interest in the program.
“Law enforcement phlebotomists will allow officers to process more impaired drivers in less time,” said Darrin Grondel, director of the commission. “Ultimately this will make our roads safer.”
The time it takes to process a DUI arrest is up 41 percent since 2009, said Washington State Patrol Capt. Dan Hall.
When someone is arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, the driver has the right to refuse to take a Breathalyzer test, and officers must get a search warrant to draw the suspect’s blood.
Officers then take the driver to a local hospital so certified phlebotomists can draw blood. Hospitals do not charge law enforcement for the draws.
Lakewood police request an average of 63 blood draws each year.
Phlebotomists do two or three blood draws for police every week at Tacoma General Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital and Auburn Medical Center, said Marce Edwards, a spokeswoman for MultiCare Health System.
“We support police finding other options but want to make sure that the officers can maintain their competence for drawing blood when they won’t do it very often,” she said.
Chief Zaro said that won’t be a problem.
Six Lakewood officers took classes at Bates Technical College to earn certification in phlebotomy. It’s the same certification received by hospital staff members.
“They earned the exact same certification and will perform the exact same procedure under the exact same circumstances,” Zaro said.
The department is developing policies that will require the trained officers to do a certain number of blood draws each year, whether through DUI arrests or practice.
Under the new program, police will bring suspected impaired drivers to the station to have one of the certified officers do the blood draw in a former interview room now sporting a medical chair.
The room has audio and video recording to protect the integrity of evidence.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653
Impaired driving statistics in Pierce County:
▪ 302 people died or were seriously injured in crashes involving an impaired driver from 2012 to 2015
▪ 25 percent of all fatal or serious injury crashes from 2012 to 2015 involved impairment