County Tries 'Photo Breathalyzer' To Monitor Drunk Drivers

The Community Corrections Department in Wells County, Ind., is trying out a new at-home breath alcohol test for repeat drunk driving offenders. The test relies on photography rather than voice recognition to confirm the offender's identity. The new system from Ameritech Corp. subsidiary SecurityLink (www.securitylink.com) is getting high marks from officers and offenders alike.

For about a week now, the county has monitored 11 offenders using the new units. And at least two other counties in the state are setting themselves up with the service. "It's going very well," said Blake Poindexter, director of the county's Community Corrections Department. "It's more user-friendly for the offender and more officer-friendly."

When called for a random test, offenders sit in front of the unit, which takes a photograph of them. They blow into a device and hit a button, and their photo and data are sent instantly via phone lines to SecurityLink's monitoring center. The test takes less than 20 seconds. SecurityLink notifies the corrections department only if an offender fails a test.

Poindexter's department is testing the new service alongside a voice recognition-based alcohol-detection device that it has been using for more than three years. Poindexter said the voice print units are problematic and require more retesting because the devices can be thrown off by colds, allergies or even "middle-of-the-night" voices if offenders are awakened for testing.

"If offenders fail, county corrections is paged immediately, and they have to trouble-shoot problems at the home of the offender," said Poindexter, adding the new unit has reduced stress for officers and offenders in dealing with retesting.

Poindexter also believes that the service provides the appropriate level of monitoring for drunk driving offenders who may be better served by close supervision than by an extended stay in prison. "It makes a lot more sense for us to use [these devices] on alcohol offenders than to build more jails and prisons."

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