Austin Police Chief on Hot Seat During Blood Draw Forum

Citizens of Austin packed the city council chambers Monday to confront Police Chief Art Acevedo on his ‘no refusal’ blood draw program. The chief was grilled about his controversial plan, and the criticism led to anger and strong words during the public forum.

Last Halloween, police officers first used an aggressive DWI enforcement plan calling for mandatory blood draws from all motorists who refuse to take a breath test when suspected of driving while intoxicated in Austin, Texas. The officers were armed with warrants signed by a judge requiring a blood sample from anyone they suspected of drunk driving. Texas law stipulates that blood draws to check for alcohol impairment are sought only after an accident that resulted in injury.

Acevedo said he felt it appropriate to use all tools at the department’s disposal to keep people safe, and to hold motorists responsible.

Besides challenges to the legality of the plan, forum attendees questioned the use of force when taking a blood sample and whether officers were the correct entity to make the blood draw. Issues of contamination during the drawing, handling and storage of a sample were raised, as were concerns about police tampering. Acevedo said that force is not an option and that cameras are being considered for the blood draw area.

Still, emotions over police demanding and then taking blood from motorists were very strong. The meeting became so heated that a councilmember threatened to close the forum.

Acevedo is seeking approval from the city council to allow officers to train at the Austin Community College and then be permitted to draw blood. He said that he has 50 officers who have expressed interest in the training process. If his plans are not approved by the council, Acevedo said he would like to hire seven phlebotomists to make blood draws.

Councilmembers have expressed concerns over the logistics of the blood draw program and the role of police in the process, in addition to the city’s liability. Texans for Accountable Government, who sponsored the council forum, are said to be drafting a resolution to prevent officers from drawing blood.

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