Pupillometers will help Wis. officers determine if people are high

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Copyright 2006 Journal Sentinel Inc.

Germantown - The Germantown Police Department expects to be using hand-held instruments to measure the pupils of motorists suspected of driving while under the influence of drugs.

Germantown will be the first police department in Wisconsin to employ the devices.

The device, called the EyeCheck Pupillometer, measures how the pupils react when exposed to a flash of light.

Among the measurements the device captures is how long it takes for the pupil to change in size from the dark to the bright light condition.

The reaction of a motorist's pupil can strongly suggest if the driver is under the influence of drugs or just tired, Germantown Police Lt. Dave Huesemann said.

The findings cannot be used as evidence in court, however, said Germantown Police Officer Dan Delmore, a certified drug recognition expert.

The instrument is strictly a screening tool.

Delmore, though, said the devices will better allow officers on the road "to support their suspicions of drug-impaired driving and give support to their arrest decision."

As part of implied consent - the requirement that drivers suspected of being impaired must agree to sobriety tests - drivers will have to take the eye test, Huesemann said.

If someone refuses to take the test, he said, that would indicate to police "that the person is driving impaired. It is one more check and balance in our system establishing probable cause."

In the case of a refusal, a blood test would likely be given to determine whether the driver was impaired.

Until now, no equipment was readily available to quickly determine whether drivers might be impaired by drugs.

A blood test was the only way to check, said William Kraus, a drug recognition expert, who works for the State Patrol's Bureau of Transportation Safety.

"These instruments have a high reliability of determining impairment," Kraus said. "You can get a result in two minutes, and that's why I am excited about Wisconsin police departments starting to use this equipment."

May have 10 to 12 devices

Germantown Police Chief Peter Hoell said he expects the eye check instruments to give the department a more definite answer about whether someone is driving drugged.

"They say that drug driving is becoming more common and serious than drunk driving," the chief said. "There's also a lot of people who are consuming pain killers who shouldn't be driving."

Huesemann estimated that 35% to 40% of the drivers Germantown police have stopped on suspicion of drunken driving in the last year turned out to be drug-impaired.

By Sept. 1, Germantown expects to have purchased 10 to 12 of the EyeCheck Pupillometers with a $150,000 federal grant.

The devices are made by MCJ Inc. of Rockford, Ill.

MCJ demonstrated the instruments to Germantown police officers Tuesday .

Although the Eyecheck Pupillometers are new to Wisconsin, they already are being used in Illinois.

The Kane County, Ill., Probation Department bought four of the devices several years ago for about $40,000, which includes the laptop computers needed to compute the tests, said JefferyJefko, the department's deputy director.

Accurate pre-test

One of the terms of probation is that the person cannot use illegal drugs, and Illinois does a minimum of three tests per year if a person is under strict supervision.

The instrument provides an accurate way to conduct a pre-test to determine whether the department needs to do a urine test on the person, Jefko said.

Last year, because of the eye checks, his department did not have to do 907 follow-up urine tests, saving about $4,500, Jefko said.

He also said that it is not pleasant for his staff to handle urine samples.

"We have had defendants," he said, "who tried to bring in someone else's urine. Our urine has to be packaged, shipped out to California and some tops may leak.

"The more that we can avoid having to take urine samples," he said, "the better."

Copyright 2006, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved. (Note: This notice does not apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through wire services or other media.) 
June 25, 2006

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