Mayor Stops Police Blood Draw for DWI in Houston

Last October, the Houston Police Department started training officers in drawing blood to test blood-alcohol content in suspected Texas drunk driving cases. Mayor Annise Parker has now cancelled that program.

Because the blood sample would become evidence in a criminal case, Texas DWI law specifies who can conduct a blood draw and in what environment. Most police departments rely on phlebotomists on-staff or at medical facilities to conduct a blood draw. Using federal funds, the Houston program intended to have officers themselves take samples, thus reducing processing time following an arrest for drunk driving. In addition to special training, the initial ten officers in the program received required shots for hepatitis and immunizations.

While the reason for the cancellation of the program was not given, blood draws are controversial. Recent changes in state legislation allow for mandatory blood draws in certain situations, especially when the motorist has a prior conviction for Texas DWI and causes an accident or has a minor in the vehicle. Some police departments employ ‘No Refusal Weekends’ where a judge is on call to sign a warrant for a blood sample when a motorist refuses to submit to a breath test.

The Houston initiative came under closer scrutiny when it was learned that 50 inmates at a local correctional institution were used in the training of the police officers. While it was claimed that the inmates were scheduled for blood testing anyway and that they gave permission to have their blood drawn by the police officers, there was an effort to keep the testing procedure quiet. Organizers feared a perception of using the inmates as guinea pigs. There is no indication that the mayor knew about this detail before stopping the practice.

The HPD says the mayor’s orders will not eliminate ‘No Refusal Weekends’. Officers will resort to using specially trained medical staff.

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