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D.C. May Be Without Breathalyzer Program Until Next Spring

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Kris Baumann, head of D.C.'s police union, says the number of DUI arrests this year has fallen by almost half, with 328 arrests so far this year compared to 572 at this point last year.

Police were ordered to stop using the breathalyzers a little more than a year ago when it was discovered the blood-alcohol testing machines were not properly calibrated, calling into question hundreds of drunken driving convictions.

With fewer DUI arrests being made, Baumann says the main deterrent against drunken driving has been greatly reduced.

"Here there is not the fear of being arrested for a DUI -- this is a nationally known problem in D.C." says Baumann.

Without the breathalyzer program, police have had to rely on urine samples and field sobriety tests to build DUI cases.

The urine test is time-consuming and costs about 10 times as much as a breathalyzer test. But Robert Hildum, with the Office of the Attorney General, says there has been a surprising benefit to using the urine test.

Approximately one in nine of the samples tested is coming back positive for the street drug PCP.

"It is pretty shocking that 12 percent arrested have recently used PCP," says Hildum. "I don't know what we do with that or how we go forward."

But Hildum says it's beneficial for police to know the dangerous drug may be becoming more popular.

In terms of the breathalyzer program, Hildum told the D.C. Council he can't give a concrete timetable on when the program will be operating again, but he's hoping for March of next year.

"I know for many people this might be disappointing," says Hildum. "I know someone said at the last hearing they could get this up and running in 30 minutes but that's absolutely absurd."

Hildum says the city is still waiting for the federal government to sign off on a grant that will help pay for the new machines. But he also says, given how heavily litigated drunk driving cases can be, he wants to make sure the program is ironclad.


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