$90K DUI machine goes unused in Scottsdale

A taxpayer-funded DUI testing machine worth about $90,000 has sat unused by the Scottsdale Police Department since September, and a department spokesman said it could be another six months or more before it goes into service.

Scottsdale police purchased the machine, a blood-alcohol headspace gas chromatograph system, last year with a $90,493 Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety grant. It is used to screen blood samples drawn from DUI suspects.

The new machine is an upgrade from one that drew scrutiny for alleged faulty results reportedly caused by a 2009 decision to equip it with dated software.

“I’m disappointed that instrument hasn’t been effective,” GOHS Director Alberto Gutier said. “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

For the machine to be effective, the Scottsdale crime lab needs trained analysts to operate it and testify about results during DUI trials. Court appearances and preparation took up the majority of one former analyst’s time, according to Scottsdale exit interview notes provided by defense attorney Cliff Girard.

Police in Scottsdale, which has more than 400 establishments that serve alcohol, needed the machine to ensure “speedy adjudication” of DUI cases, according to the Police Department’s grant application that Gutier approved on March 31, 2014. The turnaround time for blood-alcohol submissions reportedly used to be three to five days, but some had been taking more than 30, the application said.

“Until staff is fully trained and the new instrument fully validated, it will not be used in casework,” said Scottsdale police Sgt. Ben Hoster, a department spokesman.

Top 5 police agencies for DUI arrests in 2014

Arizona Department of Public Safety: 3,675.

Phoenix: 3,634.

Mesa: 2,470.

Tucson: 2,393.

Scottsdale: 2,157.

Source: Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

There is a a backlog of DUI cases in Scottsdale city court, but it’s due to the courtroom availability and the increased number of DUI cases, Hoster said.

Prosecutors have been taking some Scottsdale DUI cases to court using only Breathalyzer results, which is not as accurate as blood testing, said Girard. Some cases can’t be tried without the blood analysis, so prosecutors are continuing some DUI cases indefinitely and seeking to dismiss others without prejudice, meaning charges could be refiled down the road, Girard said.

“They’re setting cases for trial, and they don’t have blood tests back,” Girard said. “It’s a mess. This whole thing is a farce.”

The city took the old testing machine out of service after the admissibility of flawed results came under scrutiny in a combined 2012 case that made it all the way to the Arizona Supreme Court.

In a ruling handed down last month, the Court ruled the results are admissible during a DUI trial. But it also said defense attorneys can present a jury evidence that shows the equipment’s shortcomings, regardless of whether their clients’ individual results were faulty.

But the unused machine highlights a statewide shortage of criminologists to operate crime labs, Gutier said. As a result, he said some law-enforcement agencies wait three to four months for alcohol-test results and as many as six or seven months for cases where drugs and alcohol are suspected.

“(Criminologists) choose where they work based on salary and will change jobs for the same reason,” Gutier said.

Scottsdale hired an analyst last month, but Hoster said that person has just started training, and Scottsdale police do not have a firm date to begin using the machine.

There used to be two people operating Scottsdale’s blood-alcohol testing equipment, but they left for jobs in Phoenix and Henderson, Nev., Girard said. If Scottsdale is struggling to recruit enough people to operate the new machine, Girard said it should offer analysts a larger salary.

“There is something structurally wrong here,” Girard said. “Go out, hire some analysts and pay them more.”

The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety has the authority to take the machine from Scottsdale and give it to another agency, but Gutier said he would only do that if it became clear the machine won’t eventually be put into service. Scottsdale, which ranked fifth in the state for DUI arrests last year, has built equity with Gutier’s office because of its proven track record of DUI enforcement and the development of the Know Your Limit program, he said.

“They’re recognized as the top of the top,” Gutier said “They need the machine.”

Scottsdale made 2,157 DUI arrests last year, accounting for about 7 percent of the 29,053 DUI arrests that 75 law-enforcement agencies reported last year to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. The Arizona Department of Public Safety made the most out of any agency with about 13 percent of the total.

Scottsdale has averaged about 2,500 DUI arrests per year from 2009 through 2013, according to data provided by Hoster.

Scottsdale has used machines to screen DUI suspects’ blood samples since 1990, according to the grant application.

Article source: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/scottsdale/2015/05/28/scottsdale-dui-machine-unused/27977497/