Some Austin Police officers are now drawing blood in DWI cases

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Austin Police Department is piloting a program where some police officers are drawing blood from people suspected of driving under the influence instead of emergency medical technicians or nurses.

Previously, EMS medics had the ability to work overtime and conduct these blood draws for the police department. Because of staffing shortages, EMS is no longer able to offer these overtime shifts, APD said.

“We don’t want to strain [EMS] resources by pulling a truck off the street,” said William White, a lieutenant over the Highway Enforcement Command for APD. “We were seeing a shortage and problems with the blood draws.”

Inspired by a program in Arizona, where hundreds of officers are drawing blood in the same capacity, White said APD wanted to explore the possibility in Austin.

“State law does not require that a person be a medical technician of any kind to draw the blood – it just requires that they be a qualified technician,” White added. “We started moving forward with the training.”

As of late February, four APD officers are trained to draw blood from people suspected of having driven while intoxicated. White reported that those four officers have conducted over 50 draws with a 96% success rate.

“We’re not going to be drawing blood on the side of the road,” White said. “It’s still going to be in a sterile facility at the jail where it’s always been done.”

The officers attended training in Arlington, Texas, where they completed 50 hours of classroom experience and 50 practice blood draws, White said.

White said if the program proves successful, they could bring the training to Austin and expand it.

“Our goal is to ultimately have a local training here, whereby we can complete the training with all of our drug recognition experts. Hopefully [we will] have 20 or so officers that are trained to do this,” he said.

Testing a person’s blood alcohol content, or BAC, is considered to be more accurate than other methods, like breathalyzers. If a person is suspected of a DWI at a traffic spot, they can volunteer to have their blood drawn and tested. If an officer requests the procedure and the person refuses, the officer could get a warrant.

“One thing we’ve been trying to emphasize to everybody is, there’s nothing that’s being done differently. The only difference is the person drawing your blood may be different,” White said. “It might be an EMS person, it might be a doctor or nurse at a hospital, or it might be a qualified technician who works for APD, who is also a police officer,” he continued.

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