Taxpayers Foot the Bill for FDLE Breathalyzer Drinking Study

11:22 PM, Feb 15, 2012   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- First Coast News obtained video that shows Florida Department of Law Enforcement employees drinking on your dime to test breathalyzers. FDLE said the study was necessary, to prove its breathalyzers work.

Fifteen FDLE employees were part of this study an outside research firm conducted, to determine if when someone gets pulled over and they blow into an Intoxilyzer 8000, the results are accurate.

Your tax dollars paid $330 for their alcoholic drinks and some snacks, including Doritos.  Taxpayers also flipped the bill for this independent study, that cost around $7,000, to test the effectiveness of the state-used breathalyzer test. The employees also received their hourly rate for the more than six hour test.  We have requested the total cost of wages, and are waiting to hear back.

The results proved the machines reliable, when matching the results with blood tests from these people.  FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said, "It was an important test to do.  It was controlled, it was scientific.  And the test results have come back, it doesn't matter whether the calibration is set too high or too low, or accurately, the breath test results would not be impacted."

Plessinger said FDLE used its own employees because it created a more controlled environment, and reduced liability, for example, if someone tried to drive after the study.  "That was one of the areas that we looked at, yes," she said.

She, and others in the law enforcement community said it is not uncommon for agencies to use their own employees or even police recruits to conduct tests like this.  But some said who took the test is not the issue.  It's what they were testing.

Matthew Malhiot is a former FDLE breathalyzer inspector.  He said, "Instead of being proactive to the flow sensor issue that they've known about for years, this particular dosing study is reactive, trying to minimize and go back and see if there's a problem."

Up until 2010, Malhiot said his job was to test, inspect, develop and write rules for the breathalyzers.  He said this FDLE study to prove the reliability of the instruments may be too little, too late, and kind of missing the point.  Malhiot said, "If that flow sensor's inaccurate, and their blowing too much or too little, the breath sample may not be valid and the instrument may not identify an invalid sample."

He said he told his employers at FDLE about this flow problem on some of the breathalyzers, when he was their inspector.  He said they never solved the problem.  Malhiot explained the issue of the breathalyzers simply not being able to accurately measure the volume of how much someone is blowing when they take their test.  But Plessinger said this test proves that's not an issue.

Jacksonville defense attorney Janet Johnson said another problem with this study, is it doesn't really simulate a real-life breathalyzer test.  "What was troubling is it was such a controlled environment and they fed the people and they did it in such a setting that it really has no correlation to what would happen in real life.  So, I'm not sure what value that entire experiment had, other than they have a nice time one afternoon at FDLE," Johnson said.

There's also a court case about this issue.  Depending on what a 4-judge panel in Sarasota decides, it could change the way people take breathalyzers in Florida.  So far, across the state, there have been a number of DUI cases the courts have thrown out because of this issue. 

First Coast News

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