Sunday, October 25, 2009

City Council Take Stance on Collecting DWI Blood Evidence

Tony Plohetski
Austin American-Statesman
October 22, 2009

Austin city council members, in a unanimous vote, approved a resolution today that said it is their “clear will” and the community’s desire that police officers not personally collect blood from drunken driving suspects — an idea Police Chief Art Acevedo had floated for months.

The resolution stopped short of directing City Manager Marc Ott to ban such draws, which had been the original proposal by council members Bill Spelman and Laura Morrison and Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

Assistant City Attorney David Douglas told the council before their vote that the earlier measure appeared to conflict with state law, which requires officers to use “all lawful means” to enforce the law.

Also before the vote, Assistant Police Chief David Carter, who is the department’s chief of staff, told council members that the agency has no plans to train officers to draw blood. He said the idea was first mentioned last year after police officials reviewed practices in other Texas cities.

“We have not trained anybody, nor are we currently training anyone,” Carter said. “We do not expect to train anybody.”

Carter said that police officials have been and will continue to have blood drawn at Austin hospitals. He said they also are in talks with Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton about creating a partnership in which blood would be drawn from phlebotomists at the county’s central booking facility.

The resolution directs Ott to develop clear guidelines for the collection of blood specimens and bring them to the council by Feb. 19.

“The guidelines must explain who will collect the specimens and under what circumstances,” the resolutions said.

Ott also must prepare a cost study for the new blood specimen program.

Civil libertarians, including representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Central Texas and Texans for Accountable Government, had initially asked city officials to ban police officers from drawing blood.

They also had asked that police officers be prohibited from conducting so-called “no refusal” operations in which they seek the blood of drunken driving suspects who refuse to provide breath tests. Such operations usually are conducted on holiday weekends.

The resolution did not address that concern.

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