Under an agreement reached this summer, West Georgia Technical College will train state and local law enforcement officers as phlebotomists who will be able to draw blood from drivers suspected of being under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both.
The program, established by the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, is funded by an Impaired Driving Grant from the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. Funds from the grant also will be used to purchase equipment for the certified officers to perform blood draws.
“A blood test is often the key piece of evidence needed to convict a DUI driver in court, but the barriers law enforcement officers are facing in getting blood drawn during a DUI investigation are resulting in too many of these cases going to trial without any toxicology evidence,” Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Director Allen Poole said. “Officers being able to perform blood draws should lead to more convictions and hopefully serve as deterrent for more people to not make the selfish decision to drive when they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”
Officers participating in the phlebotomy program will undergo 10 hours of online training and 32 hours of classroom training. West Georgia Technical College will initially provide all of the phlebotomy training, led by Dr. Phyllis Ingham, Program Director for Clinical Laboratory Technology and Phlebotomy. Upon successful completion of the training program, the officers will have the same qualifications as phlebotomists who work in hospitals, doctor’s offices and other licensed medical facilities in the state of Georgia. The Georgia Public Safety Training Center is overseeing the training program.
“West Georgia Tech is honored to be chosen by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety to provide this critical training for law enforcement officers,” WGTC President Dr. Julie Post said. “We have excellent staff and facilities for this training, and it reinforces our reputation as a premier provider of employees with advanced technical training and specialized skills.”
Training officers to become qualified phlebotomists will assist the prosecution of DUI cases with the inclusion of critical toxicology evidence at trial. Obtaining the blood evidence sooner in the investigative process will provide a more accurate measure of the blood content of a suspected impaired driver, and not having to wait for a blood test to be performed by a third party will allow officers to return to their patrol duties, GOHS said.
“Getting drunk and drugged drivers off the road saves lives but convicting them of DUI will help ensure they do not make the mistake of driving impaired again,” GOHS Law Enforcement Services Director Roger Hayes said. “The response we have gotten to this program has been positive, and a number of agencies around the state have indicated they want to have officers in their department with this certification. In fact, several agencies currently have this capability.”
Arizona is credited with starting the nation’s first law enforcement phlebotomy program in 1995 with other states, including Texas, Minnesota, Colorado, Maine, Idaho, Washington and Utah also have successfully established similar programs.
The law enforcement officers who will be considered for this training include those whose current activity is funded by a grant from GOHS, including the Georgia State Patrol Nighthawks and GOHS Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic (H.E.A.T.) units. After the funding from the GHSA/Responsibility.org Impaired Driving Grant is expended, GOHS will seek to continue the Law Enforcement Phlebotomy Program with a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
West Georgia Technical College, with campuses in Carroll, Coweta, Douglas, Haralson and Troup counties and class sites in Heard and Meriwether counties, offers more than 120 associate degree, diploma, and technical certificate programs of study. A unit of the Technical College System of Georgia, West Georgia Tech is one of the largest of the state’s 22 technical colleges. For more information, visit www.westgatech.edu.