SCPD to Use New Flashlights to Detect Alcohol at DUI Checkpoints

Alcohol-detecting flashlights have been all the rage on the national media scene of late; the devices, which can detect the presence of alcohol in the air, are becoming a new weapon for the State College Police Department in their continuing battle against drunk driving.

Valued at roughly $700 each, the flashlights aren’t quite as new to the State College scene as some might expect. The PAS III Alcohol Sniffer, the model being used, has previously been released under different names. According to Adam Smeltz at StateCollege.com, the devices have been in use for several months, which SCPD’s Community Relations and Crime Prevention director, Kelly Aston, confirmed.

“We began using three of them around April as a testing phase, and then added three more within the last couple months,” Aston said.

SCPD Police Chief Tom King verified in a news conference with reporters Monday that the devices would not be used at this time to detect alcohol on pedestrians, nor would a positive reading on the flashlight constitute enough evidence alone for an arrest, but they are a tool to indicate potential drivers for further sobriety testing.

“It’s not ever going to be used as the basis of an arrest, [and] it won’t be introduced as hard evidence. It will just [make] the officer be more alert to things like slurred speech, blurred eyes, and have them do standard field sobriety tests,” King said.

Aston also pointed out the current effort by the department to announce the flashlights to the public. “There was a media campaign kicked off by the department a few weeks ago giving the public an idea that the devices were being used,” Aston said.

And on the ever contentious note of the flashlights invading personal privacy? Aston reiterated that the flashlights are a passive intrusion.

“All officers use flashlights in the dark, so a flashlight being used isn’t uncommon at all, and officers are all humans. We all get sick and have trouble breathing properly at times, and it also helps when the conditions, such as wind and rain and the like, may mask the officers’ smell of alcohol,” Aston said.

The flashlights are a great tool for police departments around the country for a variety of reasons. For starters, the screening process that the flashlights provide should lead to greater efficiency at checkpoints, which should come as a welcome relief for motorists who know the frustration who have wasted time idling, completely sober at a checkpoint.

Secondly, the ability for the department to help curb the number of minors who drink and drive is a huge plus. As King noted, young people are often inexperienced in terms of driving and alcohol consumption, making their driving under the influence that much more dangerous. Hopefully, the fear of running into a checkpoint, the frequency of which have increased recently, will further deter drivers from getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.

What are your thoughts on the SCPD and other area departments around using these devices? Do you think it’s an invasion of your privacy, or do you see no negative side to the flashlight usage? Leave your thoughts below.

The Centre Daily Times and StateCollege.com contributed to this report.

About the Author

Greg Pickel

Content Contributor for all things Penn State and member of the Pennsylvania Sports Network.

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