Police use new ‘sniffer’ air alcohol testers

More than 100 Indiana law enforcement agencies have new field alcohol breath testers. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — More than 100 Indiana law enforcement agencies have new field alcohol breath testers, thanks to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (ICJI).

Together, the organizations provided 1,758 units of the new technology after simply calling each agency and asking what equipment they were in need of. Most requested new field breath testers and the ICJI delivered them this week.

“We are working to reduce fatalities that are alcohol related across the state, giving our officers better equipment to make good choices so they can do this,” said Dave Murtaugh, executive director of ICJI.

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s DUI Unit received 100 testers and are eager to use the device’s new feature: a “passive sniffer” that can detect open alcohol containers nearby.

“There’s a different attachment that you can put on it and, without blowing specifically into the tube, it will still register where there’s alcohol present,” said Sgt. Michael Duke from the IMPD DUI Unit.

He showed the bright blue cone that can be placed on the yellow device to test the air around a person or vehicle.

The new models still function as a regular field breath tester with a small breath tube and gas canister, but Duke says the cone-shaped sniffer addition can be used in more situations.

“For large crowds, if you were using it at a high school event and if you wanted to see if someone was impaired,” he said. “A lot of times with the other one somebody will just suck in their cheeks and act like they’re blowing and you can tell they’re really not blowing at all. This instrument will obviously be able to overcome that.”

ICJI officials say a positive test from a sniffer or any field sobriety test is just a tool to help the officer establish probable cause for an arrest, and shouldn’t be the officer’s sole piece of evidence in making an arrest. The test results from the new devices is separate from certified blood alcohol level or breathalyzer test from hospitals or police stations. Duke says the more information the officer is able to gain from an individual suspected of drinking and driving, the better.

“The new device more clearly mirrors the certified chemical test instrument that’s owned by the Department of Toxicology,” Duke said. “We’ll get a much better understanding if the person is capable of satisfying the other instrument.”

The new testers are already in the hands of 150 agencies across the state and will reach even more next year.

“We plan to purchase over 700 for the Indiana State Police,” Murtaugh said. “It gives the officer more information to be able to make better judgments on the street and that’s what were out here for. We’re trying to give the officers the equipment that those agencies asked for, because they may not have the dollars locally to be able to do it.”

Murtaugh says these new breath testers will be put to the test on a large scale very soon.

“The ‘Safe Family Travel Holiday’ is our next traffic enforcement program starting on November the 10th,” Murtaugh said. “So that, through the holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, our roadways remain safe.”

Below is a list provided by ICJI of agencies in central Indiana who received the new breath testers, and how many units each requested:

  • Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department: 100.
  • Bloomington Police Department: 50.
  • Shelby County Sheriff’s Department: 45.
  • Monroe County Sheriff’s Office: 40.
  • Carmel Police Department: 20.
  • Muncie Police Department: 20.
  • Fishers Police Department: 15.
  • Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office: 15.
  • Decatur County Sheriff Department: 12.
  • Morgan County Sheriff’s Office: 12.
  • Boone County Sheriff Office: 11.
  • Kokomo Police Department: 10.
  • Ellettsville Police Department: 10.
  • Greensburg Police Department: 10.
  • Howard County Sheriff Department: 10.
  • Noblesville Police Department: 10.
  • Speedway Police Department: 10.
  • Westfield Police Department: 10.
  • Clinton County Sheriff Office: 8.
  • Ball State University Police: 5.
  • Bartholomew County Sheriff: 5.
  • Beech Grove Police Department: 5.
  • Daleville Police Department: 5.
  • Madison County Sheriff’s Department: 5.
  • Martinsville Police Department: 5.
  • Yorktown Police Department: 5.
  • Edgewood Police Department: 4.
  • Frankfort Police Department: 4.
  • Lebanon Police Department: 4.
  • Zionsville Police Department: 4.
  • Chesterfield Police Department: 3.
  • Ingalls Police Department: 3.
  • Anderson University Police: 2.
  • Cicero Police Department: 2.
  • Greentown Police Department: 2.
  • St. Paul Police Department: 2.
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