Lakewood police officers to be first in state to collect blood samples from DUI suspects

LAKEWOOD, Wash. – A first of its kind program for Washington state: police officers performing their own blood draws on suspected impaired drivers.

The program is off and running in the city of Lakewood and being watched closely by several other Puget Sound region police departments.

Lakewood Police Chief Mike Zaro told Q13 News Thursday at a press conference that six of his officers recently completed phlebotomy courses at Bates Technical College, and they are all certified by the Washington Department of Health.

Law enforcement officials said the program is meant to speed up the process for booking DUI suspects, but critics worry its putting too much power into the hands of investigators.

Thanks to a $50,000 grant by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, the Lakewood Police Department will be the first in the state to eliminate taking DUI suspects to hospitals, and instead draw blood for evidence at the station after getting a warrant.

“We have scratched our heads wondering what to do as the numbers of people killed and injured by drugged drivers continued to spiraled upwards,” said John Cheesman, police chief of Fircrest and chairman of the Pierce County Traffic Safety Task Force.

But some DUI defense lawyers told Q13 News they worry the program won’t be fair since police, not hospital employees, will be performing the procedure. They also worry a police station may not be an appropriate place to gather evidence, especially by a person who may also act as a witness on behalf of the state.

But police insist the program is legal and said blood draws would not take place on the side of the road.

“It will still be done under a warrant and the equipment and procedure will be the same used in hospitals,” said Zaro. “The only difference is the person performing the procedure will be a Lakewood officer instead of a hospital employee.”

Law enforcement officials said they have seen an increase of intoxicated drivers who may not have consumed any alcohol. Marijuana and other drugs don’t show up on a breathalyzer and a blood draw is the best way to determine if a driver could be under the influence.

The new program will help Lakewood police streamline their investigations and help catch more impaired drivers, said officials.

“The time savings will allow officers to get out of the hospital waiting rooms and back on the roads to process more DUIs,” said Darrin Grondel, with the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. “Ultimately, this will make our roads safer.”

Lakewood police said they plan to use their newly trained phlebotomists during "DUI emphasis" patrols that are scheduled to begin Friday night.