By RALPH BARTHOLDT
COEUR d’ALENE — Coeur d’Alene police are trading their sidearms for syringes as they take part in a program to become certified phlebotomists.
The department plans to take its phlebotomy training to the streets to curtail drunk driving, but before officers can conduct blood draws to determine blood alcohol content (BAC), the department must get the blessing from the City Council, which will hear the proposal at Wednesday’s meeting.
Council member Kiki Miller is looking forward to Wednesday’s discussion.
“I’m all ears,” Miller said.
Coeur d’Alene police looked to the Nampa Police Department for a program to model for having officers blood-draw certified. Nampa police have been drawing blood for almost a decade.
“We looked at what they are doing, and went off their plan.” Coeur d’Alene Police Capt. Dave Hagar said.
Nampa Police began training officers in phlebotomy in 2009, so they could draw blood from motorists suspected of drunk or drugged driving.
The southern Idaho department was one of the first in the West to use a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to train its officers as phlebotomists to determine if blood draws by cops can ramp down the number of impaired drivers on the road.
Last year, Coeur d’Alene police logged 352 DUIs compared to 142 in the first six months of this year, with a quarter of those excessive DUIs, according to the department.
The average BAC for DUIs last year was .159 — more than twice the state’s legal limit to drive, police said.
In many circumstances, delays after an arrest can result in reduced alcohol content being recorded at the hospital where blood is routinely drawn, Hagar said.
If an impaired motorist refuses to submit to a breathalyzer and police have probable cause the motorist is intoxicated, they must get a search warrant to draw blood at a hospital.
“Getting a search warrant takes a while,” Hagar said. “A lot of time, things are too busy and it takes a while.”
By reducing the time — getting a blood draw at the scene — police can get more accurate BACs, which can aid in prosecution, Hagar said.
Patrol officers taking the certification course have completed several blood draws and are on their way to certification, he said.
“They have been there, done that; everything is going pretty well,” he said.
It will be up to the council to decide if officers can employ the new knowledge on the road.
“I want to listen to their reasons and hear why they want to do it, and why it would be beneficial,” Miller said. “It’s up to us to pay attention to the latest procedures.”
Wednesday’s City Council meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Coeur d’Alene Public Library Community Room.