Local police suspend use of breathalyzers
MSP investigating ‘potential fraud’ committed by third-party supplier
MECOSTA, OSCEOLA COUNTIES — Local law enforcement personnel have temporarily stopped using the state’s breathalyzer testing devices, Datamasters, as the Michigan State Police investigates “potential fraud” committed by contracted employees.
On Jan. 13, the MSP announced they are investigating the actions of employees with the Datamaster vendor, the Missouri-based Intoximeters, and have suspended the state’s contract with the company. The MSP has also taken all of the breath alcohol testing instruments out of service until further notice.
As Datamasters are used by the state police and many other law enforcement agencies in the state, the MSP recommended police agencies use blood draws rather than breath tests to establish evidence of drunken driving during the period of investigation.
The MSP stated in a news release that they have seen discrepancies in recent vendor records regarding the calibration and certification of the Datamasters.
While the discrepancies do not directly deal with the results of breath tests, the MSP said it appears as though some certification records of the devices have been falsified. As a result, the MSP has opened a criminal investigation to look into the possible forgery of the records.
Although the MSP still is in the process of reviewing vendor records, possible discrepancies have been identified to-date involving Datamaster instruments in several police departments around the state. However, no agencies in Mecosta or Osceola counties were included in that list.
“We have not been notified of any devices that might have been compromised,” Mecosta County Prosecutor Brian Thiede said. “There’s no reason to think any of our tests have been compromised.”
While local agencies so far have not been made aware of any issues with the calibration of their breathalyzers, Thiede said area police were asked to cease use of these devices.
“Our people were on it right away. All of our Datamasters have been put away until further notice,” he said.
Tyler Haynes, public information officer with the Big Rapids Department of Public Safety, said police now are following the MSP’s recommendation to use blood tests in drunken driving cases.
“Breath tests can be more convenient for everyone involved, but going forward for the time being we will be doing blood tests,” he said.
Haynes explained officers have the ability to ask a driver to submit to a blood test if they are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol, but if the subject refuses, the officers would then have to ask a county judge or magistrate to issue a warrant based on probable cause.
Without the subject’s consent or a warrant from the courts, Haynes said, they cannot require someone to submit to a blood test at a hospital.
However, Haynes said requesting blood tests is already a common practice for local law enforcement, as this is the method used for establishing if a person is driving under the influence of drugs.
Osceola County Sheriff Ed Williams said although no agencies in Osceola County were listed among those possibly affected, deputies with his department also are following the recommendations announced by the MSP this week.
“We’ll probably stop using our Datamaster instrument until the next time it gets checked and validated, and then we can continue as normal,” he said.
In the news release, the MSP stated a properly calibrated and maintained Datamaster is an “extremely reliable” instrument.
“Placing the instruments temporarily out-of-service and assuming responsibility for maintaining all Datamasters in the state is an extreme move that places a burden on all of the state’s law enforcement resources, but it is an absolutely necessary move to safeguard the integrity of the criminal justice process,” the release read.
The MSP said they do not know how many certification records have been falsified or how long deceptive practices were occurring, but they are continuing to work with Intoximeters to identify and remedy the issues.