Many in law enforcement consider it an exciting development. Cops in some parts of Pennsylvania and at least eight other states are being trained in phlebotomy, the science of drawing blood for medical testing. But these cops aren’t going into the medical field; they’re drawing blood to catch people who are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The U.S. Constitution requires officers to get warrants before ordering blood drawn, and that requirement still applies to police officer phlebotomists. Over time, getting warrants has become quicker, however, and today many warrants are submitted to and approved by judges electronically.
Many law enforcement personnel see having trained phlebotomists on staff as a way to speed up the entire process of getting a test result. That said, the police officers still aren’t performing the ultimate tests themselves; those are still done by labs.
Where this could come into play most often is when officers suspect a driver is impaired by drugs. There is currently no breathalyzer-like device that can easily test a person for drug impairment. Using electronic warrants and police officers trained as phlebotomists, law enforcement hopes to be able to get impaired drivers off the road right away.
What are some potential problems with police phlebotomy?
Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts, interviewed some concerned criminal defense attorneys about these phlebotomy initiatives. Their primary worry was that electronic warrants won’t be reviewed as carefully by judges as would their traditional counterparts.
On late nights, will judges carefully examine each warrant to be sure the officer has probable cause for a blood test? Or will they just roll over, click “approved” and go back to sleep? It would only be human nature for a judge to spend less time on warrants that appear in their email inboxes. Will people’s constitutional rights be abused?
It’s also important to note that police officer phlebotomists are not healthcare workers. Their primary motivation is not to help the patient but to send that patient to jail. They may not take as much care with hygiene, locating a vein with a single stick, or preventing pain.
Beyond that, is it even safe to draw blood outside a medical facility? It seems likely that contamination could occur and put people at risk for potentially serious diseases.
Finally, the amount of training and certifications required for police officer phlebotomists varies from state to state. If officers are given less training than medical phlebotomists, they might not know how to respond to unusual situations, such as people who have medical conditions that make it hard for them to give blood.
Police phlebotomists are on the job now in Pennsylvania. Do you have any concerns?