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Archive for Tuesday, December 28, 2004

New police van will ferry blood-alcohol analyzer

December 28, 2004

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Drunken drivers beware: Lawrence Police soon will have a new tool to make officers more efficient in snatching up impaired motorists.

The city has been awarded a $77,049 grant to buy its first mobile blood-alcohol testing van, officials recently learned.

Lawrence Police Officer Tracy Russell, who helped write the grant proposal to the Kansas Department of Transportation, said the van should make it easier for officers to test suspected drunken drivers.

"It will speed up the process immensely," Russell said. "It will allow our officers to get back out on the street instead of waiting around for a test."

The van will be equipped with a sophisticated breath analyzer and computer equipment to determine whether motorists have more than the legal limit of alcohol in their systems.

Currently, police officers carry a mobile breath test kit, but Russell said the devices didn't provide a scientifically verifiable reading. That means any person who fails the field test is taken to the Douglas County Jail, where an official test is administered.

The entire process usually takes at least two hours of an officer's time. Under the new system, the van would drive to the site of the traffic stop. A police officer in the van would administer the test and make any subsequent arrest, allowing the patrol officer to get back on the streets.

"You always hate to say that you hope it allows them to go arrest more drunk drivers, but we know there are still too many people drinking and driving," said Chris Bortz, a spokesman with KDOT's bureau of traffic safety.

Bortz said Lawrence was the second city in Kansas to receive a KDOT grant to buy a mobile testing unit. Topeka received a similar grant in the mid-1990s.

"We recognized that if you are way on the west side of town, it is quite a haul to get back to the east side of town to conduct the test," Bortz said.

Russell said the van would make it more feasible for the department to conduct "saturation patrols," when the department puts extra officers on the street to hunt for drunken drivers.

Russell, though, said he hoped one of the biggest effects of the van would be to make potential drunken drivers think before they get behind the wheel.

"Hopefully they'll see this mobile testing unit driving around town and it will become a deterrent," Russell said.

The van, which is being manufactured by Grandview, Mo.-based Master Transport, probably won't be ready for use for at least three months, Russell said.

The total cost of the vehicle is $96,311. The KDOT grant will pay 80 percent of the cost and the city will pay the remaining $19,262.

Russell said the department planned on making the van available to the Kansas University Police Department, the Douglas County Sheriff's Department and area Kansas Highway Patrol units.

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