December 28, 2013
The Los Angeles Police Department has announced plans to ramp up use of a portable tool that checks for drug use, beginning with a New Year’s Eve crackdown on intoxicated drivers. Officials cited increased medical marijuana use as a main justification.
A state grant supplied the LAPD with a swab testing tool that will be employed at DUI (driving under the influence) checkpoints and jails, Los Angeles officials said at a Friday press conference.
The conference was held to highlight use of the tool alongside breathalyzers – which check for blood-alcohol content – at sobriety checkpoints during the New Year’s holiday.
LAPD officers can ask a driver to consent to a voluntary portable oral fluids test of their gum line and cheeks. The tip of the tool is then put into a portable machine for immediate testing rather than requiring a blood test. Such blood tests have previously been necessary to verify an arrest made on the suspicion of drugged driving.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer pointed to the increased use of medical marijuana and the prevalence of dispensaries in the city as reason to step up enforcement of DUI policing.
“There’s a growing recognition that driving under the influence of drugs is something we need to be clamping down on more effectively,” Feuer said at the press conference.
The swabbing test is not completely untested, though it was only used 50 times in Los Angeles ahead of Friday’s announcement. City prosecutors said they have not used results from the test as evidence in any case thus far.
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The portable oral fluids test screens for amphetamines, cocaine, benzodiazepine (Xanax), methadone, methamphetamine, narcotic analgesics, and THC – which indicates that marijuana has been used the past several hours.
“Traditionally, our office has focused on drunken driving cases,” Feuer said. “We’re expanding drug collection and aggressively enforcing all impaired-driving laws.”
The city attorney’s office filed 598 DUI cases in the past year that involved drugs. In comparison, the city filed 577 drunken driving cases during the 2012 winter holiday alone.
Thus far in the 2013 holiday season, over 1,500 people have been arrested in Los Angeles County on suspicion of DUI, according to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
It is yet unknown what other capabilities the testing method has, or how the LAPD will use biometric data gleaned from the swabbing results.
In June, the US Supreme Court ruled  to affirm law enforcement’s right to legally take DNA samples from those who are arrested – even if they have not been convicted for a crime or gone to trial.
Los Angeles County has held the distinction of possessing one of the largest DNA-sample backlogs in the US, including an especially high number of unprocessed rape kits.