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Acevedo defends blood draws at town hall meeting
Tuesday, March 31, 2009 by Steven Pickering
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo and Council Member Mike Martinez took part in a town hall-style meeting at City Hall Monday evening to discuss APD’s ongoing effort to obtain blood samples from DWI suspects. The audience filled the chamber and spilled out into the lobby. While most of the members of the crowd were there to question the policy or argue against it, the chief did find some support from a representative of Mothers Against Drunk Driving on the panel and another, less likely source.
“I give the chief credit for being here tonight,” said Debbie Russell of the ACLU, who has been a prominent critic of the blood-draw program. “Stan Knee would have never been here.”
Council Member Martinez, who is skeptical of the blood-draw program, also complimented Chief Acevedo for the work he has done since becoming
On the issue of mandatory blood draws, Chief Acevedo pointed out that the practice had been deemed acceptable by the courts as long as officers secured search warrants from a judge. But since the chief began regularly requesting blood search warrants for DWI suspects, administrators at the city’s two major hospitals and at the Travis County Jail have instructed their nurses to stop performing the procedure for the department. All three institutions have cited the need to have their staff devoted to patient care, not collecting evidence for criminal prosecutions. Now, the chief is pushing to have some APD officers trained as phlebotomists or seeking grant funding to hire seven civilian phlebotomists to take samples from suspects.
“I think there are too many questions,” Council Member Martinez said, “and until those questions get answered, I don’t believe the city of
A bill passed by the Texas Senate would broaden officers’ ability to take blood from suspects even without a judge’s approval. The legislation proposed by Republican Sen. Bob Duell would allow officers to take blood samples from drivers involved in crashes where one person is injured or if the person is suspected of driving drunk with a child in the car. “I eventually believe it’s going to go back through the court system if legislation like this is adopted,”
Although sobriety checkpoints and non-consent blood draws provoke strong public opinion, Chief Acevedo said he would continue to seek legal ways to remove drunk drivers from the streets. “If tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court told me I couldn’t do something…guess what we’re going to do? We’re going to stop doing it,” he said. “If the legislature tells us we can’t do something, we’re going to obey the law.”
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