Phlebotomy in Law Enforcement

Keeping pace with the rise in population as well as the increase in our elderly population, jobs for Phlebotomists continue to grow. Along with positions in hospitals, laboratories, and emergency departments, there are also positions within research facilities, national blood banks, wellness corporations and rehabilitation centers.

Perhaps some of the most varied jobs may be found within the Law Enforcement sector. Phlebotomy is used by Police Departments, Sheriff Departments, and State Highway Patrol in the fight against drunk driving.

The average drunk driver has driven drunk 80 times

before first their arrest

If a person is suspected of driving while under the influence of alcohol, known as DUI or DWI, the most common test to determine the presence of alcohol is a breathalyzer test (by a margin over ten to one). Along with breathalyzer tests, urine and blood are also used to determine a suspected drunk driver’s blood alcohol content, or B.A.C. The blood test remains the most reliable method of measuring blood alcohol content.

Each state has its own strict guidelines (regulations and statutes) that regulate blood alcohol content testing.  Some states test urine, while other states do not. While some states allow a police officer to determine which test will be performed, other states require a DUI suspect first be offered a breathalyzer test if they are still conscious. There are also strict guidelines that determine:

Who can perform the test

How the test is performed (such as breath, blood or urine)

How the test is secured and tested.

It is very important that all procedures and rules, as well as Implied Consent laws, be carefully followed to allow the collected sample to be admissible in court. This could result in a drunken driving conviction for a repeat offender, taking them off the streets and putting them behind bars. If a sample is collected to determine blood alcohol content and one step of these important rules is not followed, the sample could be determined ‘inadmissible’ resulting in the case being dismissed.

 

 75% of Prosecutors surveyed

stated that a blood alcohol test was the single most critical

piece of evidence needed for DUI convictions

 

Blood analysis is used to determine a suspected drunk driver’s alcohol content, in a process called “gas chromatography (GC). There are two types of gas chromatography:  headspace gas chromatography and direct injection chromatography.

If a police officer suspects that part or all of a suspect’s impairment may be due to drugs, most states allow that officer to demand a blood sample as well as a urine sample. A different test is performed, using gas chromatography and mass spectrophotometer (GC-MS). This test is able to identify illegal and prescription drugs that are in a suspect’s drugs.

50 to 75% of convicted drunk drivers

continue to drive on a suspended license

One of the important state regulations and statues governs who can draw a suspected drunk driver’s blood. In most states, only Phlebotomists, registered nurses or doctors are considered ‘qualified personnel. To collect blood, these qualified personnel are required to draw blood in a hospital setting.  One of the changes in Law Enforcement has been the addition of law enforcement personnel trained in Phlebotomy.

In 1995 in the state of Arizona, two police officers enrolled in a phlebotomy training program. Current law stated at that time that, along with phlebotomists, doctors and nurses, “another qualified person” may collect blood. One of the questions surrounding law enforcement obtaining blood samples was “What constitutes a qualified person” under the existing law?

After the Arizona Department of Public Safety, as well as Attorney General’s office upheld a ‘qualified person’ to mean anyone trained to draw blood, the law was challenged in 2001 in the landmark case of State versus Olcavage.  In 2005, the Arizona court affirmed that “a Law Enforcement Phlebotomist is qualified through training and experience.”

Along with officers now trained in phlebotomy, Arizona created a new, streamlined search warrant for blood. These efforts have resulted in a lowered refusal rate which was 16.9% in 1996 to a low of 8.56% by 2007. A refusal rate measures those (typically repeat) offenders trying to avoid prosecution by refusing to submit to testing. In doing so, they are typically given a less-stiff penalty for refusal than they would have for a DUI conviction.

Currently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has provided Federal funding for programs to train police officers how to successfully draw blood from DWI suspects. Along with Arizona, Minnesota, Texas, Colorado and Idaho have these law enforcement phlebotomy programs available.

There are several benefits to law enforcement phlebotomy programs such as the following:

  1. Law enforcement will go through the same phlebotomy training as a phlebotomist or another qualified person to draw blood. This allows the procedure to be safe.
  2. Traditionally, the high costs of blood draws (thousands of dollars for some agencies) would be paid to those hospitals and clinics that performed them. With the advent of law enforcement phlebotomy programs, this cost will be alleviated.
  3. Traditionally, a person suspected of DWI would be taken by law enforcement to the local hospital or clinic to have their blood drawn. If there is any emergency in the hospital at that time, the blood draw may have to wait until personnel are available. Along with reducing the cost of obtaining the blood sample, law enforcement phlebotomists would reduce the time it would take to obtain a blood sample. This provides the most accurate blood alcohol level – that closest to the time the suspect was driving.

There has also been controversy involving police officers drawing blood. Arguments include:

  1. A police officer drawing  blood from a suspected DUI/ DWI driver has a vested interest in obtaining a conviction, while traditionally ‘qualified’ personnel such as a Phlebotomist has no interest in the suspect’s conviction.
  2. A police officer drawing blood would use pre-packaged testing kits that contain all material needed for a blood draw. These blood testing kits would ensure all procedures are followed, from collection to transportation of the blood sample. If the blood testing kit were to be kept, for instance, in the police officers’ trunk, the extreme temperature could produce invalid results.
  3.  While ‘qualified personnel’ in a hospital setting could determine if the suspected DUI driver has a medical condition that could prevent a blood draw, such as hemophilia, a phlebotomist-trained police officer could not make that determination. Drawing blood on a hemophiliac could result in excessive bleeding or death, because the genetic disorder affects blood clotting.

 

 

1 thought on “Phlebotomy in Law Enforcement”

  1. I am B.A.C certified and also Phlebotomy certified and Presently working at Sonora Quest and looking for a opportunity to broaden my horizon.

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