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    Tuesday, July 16, 2024

    Montville officers train to draw blood from DUI suspects

    Montville Police Officer Karen Aleshire laughs with Kevin McNeill from the Department of Transportation as she inserts a needle into his arm during forensic phlebotomy training at American Ambulance in Norwich Thursday, June 20, 2024. Seven officers from across the state took part in the training and will use the certification to collect samples from suspected DUI drivers. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Norwich ― Montville police officer Karen Aleshire on Thursday showed her arms, which displayed red marks where fellow officers had inserted numerous blood-drawing needles.

    It had only been about an hour since she and six officers had arrived at the American Ambulance building for a new program that trains police to draw blood from drivers suspected of being impaired. In that time, her fellow officers had already drawn her blood four times. Over the course of the week, she’d been stuck with the needle about 15 times.

    She’d also taken their blood as officers from Bristol, Guilford, Hartford and Manchester, along with her co-worker, Montville officer Tom Lalumiere, were part of the program. It is being overseen by the state Department of Transportation and administered by Hartford HealthCare.

    Once finished, the seven officers will become among the 10 police phlebotomists statewide. Three months ago there were none. Four more training courses are planned across the state for other officers.

    According to DOT Liaison and former Norwich Drug Enforcement Officer Kevin McNeill, the appetite around the state for departments to have phlebotomists is growing, and agencies want to be clear what officers will use the training for.

    “This is something an impaired driver will face,” he said. “If someone makes that decision to get behind the wheel, and they’ve been consuming drugs or alcohol, there’s a good possibility they’re going to run into one of our trained phlebotomists.”

    “And their blood is going to be drawn, whether through consent, or a search warrant,” he added.

    Aleshire said it will also be used in cases of investigations of fatal accidents.

    McNeill added that blood is one of three methods offered to police, under state law, to test drivers. The others are urine and breath. But a blood sample most accurately tells police what particular substances are in a person’s bloodstream at the time they are being tested.

    The blood can be used to provide evidence whether a driver is impaired, he said.

    The phlebotomist program, which is mostly based on one used in Arizona since 1995, debuted in April with officers from the Naugatuck and Greenwich departments undergoing training.

    The second group with Aleshire and Lalumiere, had already undergone a two-week online training course that featured lectures, reading assignments and quizzes. On Thursday they were wrapping up the second phase of the program, a one-week, in-person training focusing largely on drawing blood.

    “Tomorrow’s the last day,” said Damian Rickard, director of Hartford HealthCare’s American professional educational services, the training organization working with the DOT. “So today is the last big day for them to get their blood draws.”

    By week’s end, the seven officers in training had to reach 100 blood draws over the course of one week, concluding Friday with a final exam.

    So Thursday morning, the officers played musical chairs with three phlebotomy seats, taking turns plopping their arms down on the padded armrests, while cohorts tied them off above the elbow, then rubbed target spots with alcohol. What followed was a small, thin needle, extracting little amounts of blood into plastic tubes.

    Lalumiere, with bandages on both his arms, said Thursday he’d done approximately 50 blood draws.

    So on Wednesday, Montville police went to Facebook to ask people to volunteer to have their blood drawn.

    It resulted in some Montville residents, like Frank Majewski, coming in Thursday. Majewski, whose veins were set deep beneath the skin, watched as officers made attempts to draw blood.

    Police move blood draws in-house

    Traditionally, police in the state visit a hospital to have staff there collect a blood sample, McNeill said. But that method has become more difficult, he said. Hospitals are generally busy, he said, and many feel unsettled by the proposition of being directed by law enforcement.

    “Having trained law enforcement phlebotomists, it gives us that option to draw the blood during a post-arrest procedure,” McNeill said.

    Still, there’s more work involved than just having the patient stick their arm out of a car window, he said.

    For one, drivers have the right to refuse the blood test. If they do that, police must obtain a search warrant establishing there is probable cause that the person is impaired.

    McNeill said in order to establish that, officers search for visual signs of impairment. They make contact with the driver, looking for bloodshot eyes, delayed speech or problems with paying attention. Once officers find signs of impairment, they then must confirm it using three kinds of field sobriety tests, a visual test, a walk-and-turn test and a one-leg stand.

    If the person passes the field sobriety tests, there’s likely not probable cause for an arrest, McNeill said. But if they don’t, the officer may place the person in custody.

    “And that’s where the phlebotomists will come into play,” McNeill said.

    If the person, after being taken into custody, is found to be under the .08 blood alcohol limit using a breathalyzer or is not registering any alcohol in the blood, that’s when a blood or urine test is needed, McNeill said. But there are flaws with urine analysis, because it doesn’t show necessarily drugs or alcohol is active in a person’s system. It can register things from days before.

    Rickard said the program will provide departments with chairs for drawing blood, along with kits with needles, tubes and other supplies officers may need.

    The officers will not get paid extra for the certification, McNeill said.

    “Officers are passionate about getting impaired drivers off the roadway,” he said. “So, what we do is we look for that passion in them. But I’ll be honest with you - it kind of bubbles out of them when you talk to them for a couple of minutes. Those are the sort of officers we’re getting through this program.”

    To stay certified, officers must do 20 blood draws a year, McNeill said. They will also need to do 10 hours of education each year to maintain their state license.

    d.drainville@theday.com

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