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New digital DWI testing equipment at Cottage Grove Police Department gets instant results

Cottage Grove Police Sgt. Jim Smith demonstrates how someone suspected of drunken driving will be tested with a new machine measuring blood-alcohol concentration. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente1 / 2
Someone suspected of driving drunk would blow into the end of a tube on the new blood-alcohol testing machine being used by local law enforcement. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente2 / 2

A new device will mean a similar drill for suspected drunken drivers but speedier results and smoother processing for cops and prosecutors.

The Cottage Grove Police Department and surrounding law enforcement agencies are using a new machine to measure the blood-alcohol concentration of people picked up for drunken driving or for underage drinking.

Cottage Grove last week started using the new machine, called the DataMaster. It received the machine from the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to replace the Intoxilyzer 5000EN, a device that was used widely for years but also was the subject of legal challenges over its technology.

The new DataMaster is digital, provides quick results and leaves less room for error, police said.

The machine cuts down on paperwork, too. After a suspect's information is entered, it automatically fills out multiple documents needed to process drunken driving cases. The documents can be sent directly to the state BCA, Department of Motor Vehicles and to prosecutors.

"You know what it saves - paperwork errors more than anything," said Cottage Grove police Sgt. Jim Smith.

The Cottage Grove city attorney prosecutes misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor drunken driving cases. Felonies are charged out through the Washington County Attorney's Office.

In 2011, Cottage Grove police officers made 109 drunken-driving arrests, according to department data.

Officers still will use portable equipment to measure a driver's blood-alcohol concentration at the scene of a traffic stop, but police said that reading is used to determine probable cause for an arrest. The new machine serves as an evidentiary test, producing results that can be used in court, much like blood and urine tests.

The device is new, but someone arrested by police and submitting to a blood-alcohol test will basically go through the same process as occurred with the Intoxilyzer: You blow through the end of a tube.

The machine provides results instantly and can detect faults or cheats. (For instance, police say the machine knows if you're not blowing hard enough or if you're trying to only blow air from your mouth, not from your lungs - two tricks some people attempt to skirt a drunken-driving charge.)

Only alcohol can be detected with the new equipment; police cannot use it to test someone for drug use.

The device is in a basement processing room at the Cottage Grove Police Department, but it may be used by St. Paul Park police, Newport cops, the State Patrol and the Washington County Sheriff's Office.

Cottage Grove hopes to have at least one officer trained on the new device on duty at all times, said patrol officer Dan Schoen, who is among cops trained on the DataMaster.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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