City signs off on police drawing blood from impaired driversOfficers trained as hospital stops blood draw service for law enforcement
Belfast — City councilors on Jan. 3 approved a request to allow two trained Belfast police officers to draw blood samples from people suspected to be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Historically, Waldo County General Hospital staff members have drawn blood using state-issued kits — at no charge to the city — from individuals who were believed to be driving while impaired. However, that practice is being discontinued as of Jan. 15 and law enforcement must seek alternative options for obtaining blood samples.
That's in part because when employees at the hospital draw blood, they can be called in to testify during court proceedings, which often become all-day events and prevent them from performing their regular job duties.
The shift in policy isn't a surprise to local police, Chief Mike McFadden said, but the timing is somewhat problematic, particularly because citizens recently approved a referendum legalizing marijuana.
“The reality is, for law enforcement locally, the news we got from the hospital couldn't have come at a worse time, particularly when it's almost a certainty that in the near future (when the legalization of marijuana goes into effect) the number of drug/THC impaired driving cases will increase substantially,” the chief wrote in a memo to city officials.
McFadden noted that previously, officers would have to get a blood sample to test for alcohol and a urine sample to test for drugs. The state now has the technology to test blood for alcohol and drugs. Such tests are used relatively frequently in Belfast, the chief said, and are required for crashes that involve serious injury or death.
Knowing the hospital was nixing its blood drawing service, McFadden said he looked into possibly using Belfast Ambulance personnel for blood draws. However, he learned that those employees are certified to draw blood only for medical purposes and not for evidence collection, the chief told councilors.
The chief therefore took advantage of a phlebotomy training course hosted by Portland Police Department and sent two of his officers, Rick Smith and Eric Kelley, to that training. Smith is the department's drug recognition expert and Kelley is a certified EMT. Departments in Southern Maine have not relied on hospital staff to perform blood draws in at least the past five to 10 years, McFadden said.
Neither officer has performed any blood draws, he said, because McFadden wanted to inform councilors and the public about the change.
There is federal funding to reimburse the city for the costs associated with the officers being called in to draw blood when they are not scheduled to work. However, McFadden said the department will need an insurance rider to cover both officers performing blood draws. That rider will cost $600 a year, the chief said.
Councilors were receptive to the idea of having officers perform blood draws but also questioned how the procedure would play out. Specifically, Mayor Walter Ash questioned whether police would need consent to take a blood sample — they would — and what would happen if someone refused to give a blood sample.
In cases where an individual would not give consent to having blood taken, McFadden said officers would have to obtain a search warrant to get blood. He also pointed out that part of the phlebotomy training addressed the issue of when law enforcement are permitted to perform blood tests.
“At no point in time are we ever going to strap a person down and extract their blood by force,” McFadden said.
He also noted that in Maine it is illegal to compel someone to consent to a test.
Councilors approved the chief's request to allow the Belfast officers to draw blood samples.