Law Enforcement Phlebotomy for Safer Roads - an article by Alberto Gutier published in The LEL April 2016 issue
The primary source of funding for the Arizona Law Enforcement Phlebotomy Program is from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) Section 402 and 410 program areas. GOHS funds phlebotomy courses, textbooks and instructors. Additional funding is available through NHTSA demonstration grants through State Highway Safety Offices.
Law enforcement phlebotomists are police officer/personnel with specialized training to draw blood for investigative purposes, including DUI/DWI investigations, DNA testing, communicable disease testing and other reasons. The Arizona Officer Phlebotomy Program started in 1995 in an effort to streamline the search warrant program. In 2000, Cathee Tankersley, the Phoenix College Phlebotomy Director, developed a new course specifically designed for law enforcement.
Arizona statutes allow for breath, blood or urine at the choice of the officer. Some municipalities like Phoenix, Gilbert, Mesa and Chandler are all blood. Most other jurisdictions permit both breath and blood. Agencies moved from breath to blood as a result of litigation, such as ADAMS/COBRA and source code, a perception of fewer legal challenges, judge/jury perception of reliability and the officer phlebotomy program.
When the Officer Phlebotomy Program was started in 1995, Arizona had a 20% refusal rate. By 2007, this rate had dropped to 8.56% statewide (with 5.89% at DPS and 4.07% at Phoenix PD). In 2008, DPS’ refusal rate was 6.3% and Phoenix PD’s 3.81%. The most recent data from 2009 show that DPS’ refusal rate rose slightly to 6.4% and Phoenix PD’s to 5%. Even when suspects refuse to have their blood drawn, the evidence is obtained through a search warrant.
Refusal rates have dropped in large part due to increased public awareness – the public is aware that if a suspect refuses to have their blood drawn when under arrest for DUI they will lose their drivers license for a period of one year, a zero tolerance approach by law enforcement, search warrants – judges are available 24 hours a day to process warrants in both misdemeanor and felony cases and whether or not the incident is an injury collision and better interagency cooperation.
Arizona has developed a concentrated one-week course to train law enforcement officers in phlebotomy. Participants in the class must complete pre-class homework online. Courses are modified to instruct officers on only those procedures germane to law enforcement procedures. Courses are taught in 8-hour days and are OSHA guideline consistent.
Students spend 20-30 hours in a clinical setting where they complete more than 50 successful venipunctures. Students are given a practical and written final examination where they must meet all competencies as prescribed. Officers who successfully complete and pass this course are required to complete a refresher training course every two years.
GOHS funds Law Enforcement Phlebotomy classes through the following colleges: Phoenix College, Pima Community College, Gateway College, Eastern Arizona College and Northland Pioneer College.