There’s no such thing as a normal traffic stop. While there could be a plethora of explanations of why a vehicle is swerving or driving erratically until the vehicle pulls over and you start asking questions, there’s not much that can give you the “heads up” as to what to expect sitting in the driver’s seat up ahead (save for all the background data available from database queries from your computer).
According to data published in a release by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), the presence of alcohol in fatally injured drivers has decreased to 38% in 2016. The problem more recently, the results of drivers testing positive for drugs such as marijuana or opioids have increased. With more and more states legalizing the use of marijuana (medical or otherwise), this percentage has a good chance to grow. Regardless if it was drugs or alcohol, impaired driving is impaired driving - and there are lessons learned that can be applied.
Breathalyzers have been a great tool for law enforcement for years. Unfortunately, detecting narcotic impairment through breath has been traditionally unreliable for screening drivers. However, the development of such tools and devices to provide law enforcement a trustworthy answer has been in the works—and available internationally—for years.
While blood is still considered the gold standard of determining usage, the time lag between sample to data is quite long. Christine Moore, PhD DSc DABCC FAACC and the Chief Toxicologist of the Rapid Diagnostics division of Abbott explains, “If [law enforcement] stopped a driver now and they’re not drunk but they still think there’s an issue, they would tend to possibly arrest that driver and take a blood sample. The time that it takes for analysis, the average time it takes between the stop and the collection of the blood is about 1.5 to 2 hours. In that time the drugs are going away; they are going lower and lower in the system because the person hasn’t taken any more. Losing time to collect a sample to support your observations then that looks worse on the DREs. It would be very helpful to have a sample you could collect immediately at the time of the incident that can be analyzed there and confirmed later.”
Quick Features: The MobileDetect
• Self-contained, one-time use, specialized pouches.
• Integrates Android or Apple mobile devices for color comparison.
• Local software—all processing is done on your device and not over the cloud.
With this mentality, Texas-based DetectaChem Inc. created their MobileDetect as a handheld system for the detection of a wide variety of substances using specialized pouches and your Android or Apple smartphone. “In a nutshell,” explains Greg Giuntini, Law Enforcement Liaison with DetectaChem, “MobileDetect is a product specifically designed for law enforcement as a presumptive drug test that uses consumable pouches and integrates with a free smartphone app to be able to automate detection, generate presumptive evidence for reports and to be able to send those reports out to different agencies within law enforcement.” MobileDetect has been available for roughly two years.
Each pouch is designed for a different line of substances. Currently, their site lists specialized pouches ranging from THC, heroin, PCP, opiates, and more. But the starting point is the multi-drug test which is designed to handle multiple drugs in a single pouch: fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine, and MDMA. These are consumable, one time use. The self-contained pouch should be safely discarded afterward.
Similar to old-fashioned field tests kits, each pouch includes chemical reagent ampules to which causes a color reaction. You then scan the pouch with your smartphone camera—the app then takes the guesswork out and compares the results for you, nearly immediately—almost less than a second. You can take additional photos, notes, utilize your phone’s GPS coordinates, etc. and immediately create a PDF report. That report can then be shared with necessary players—whether that be back to HQ or your fellow 1,000 officers in the agency.
Here's a video demo of the MoibleDetect handheld drug test featuring Giuntini:
Quick Features: The SoToxa
• Internal memory can hold information on over 10,000 tests.
• Data can be downloaded to a PC or via an SD card if needed.
• Results were not designed to be used as evidence. Officers are to conduct a confirmatory test later.
• Long-lasting battery life, rechargeable by USB in your patrol car
In a similar product, Abbott—a global healthcare leader—have partnered with Intoximeters—a leader in breath alcohol testing known in over 90 countries worldwide, to bring the SoToxa portable system to the U.S. law enforcement market. The device “is a portable system designed for rapid screening and detection of drugs in oral fluid”. As of mid-August 2019, law enforcement agencies are able to acquire both Intoximeters’ Alco-Sensor brand breath alcohol-testing products and Abbott’s SoToxa Mobile Test System. Intoximeters is the exclusive distributor of the SoToxa instrument.
Instead of a puff of breath, this device requires a swap of the oral fluid. But alcohol can be pretty straight forward, detecting narcotics, on the other hand, can be a bit more complicated. Combating this, Abbott’s SoToxa system is able to detect six classes or drugs: amphetamine, benzodiazepines, THC, cocaine, methamphetamine, and opiates. A roadside test with easy-to-read results can be completed in five minutes. A study in Kansas recommended adding oxycodone and tramadol to the panel; work is ongoing to add those. “It’s really difficult to add drugs that come and go like spice compounds—once you get a test for one it’s a different one. So, those would be more difficult to add,” says Moore.
An officer would begin the test by collecting a sample of oral fluid from the driver and inserting the swab into the main SoToxa device. The sample is then mixed with buffers and sealed, later to be safely discarded. The device was designed to avoid any officer contamination during or after. The screen lists all three main classes of drugs and returns a positive or negative result - there is no color comparison to match, no subjective results to interpret.
Earlier this year, the Michigan State Police conducted a roadside analysis pilot program to evaluate the use of the SoToxa device. The agency was originally conducted in five different counties and given to drug recognition expert officers. The instrument was not provided to regular officers. Results were 95% of the 92 roadside tests were confirmed by an independent laboratory; 89 of which were arrested. The Michigan State Police pilot program has since moved onto phase two moving SoToxa statewide. Additionally, it also currently being evaluated by multiple states throughout the U.S.
Now to search (the vehicle and more)
Screening the driver is one thing. Should you have further reason to inspect the vehicle you’ll need a device to allow to search the vehicle—the parts you can’t see. Viken Detection, a market leader and pioneer of handheld x-ray imaging and analytical devices, introduced a large-area detector accessory, the Broadwing-LAD, for its HBI-120 handheld backscatter x-ray imager. According to the announcement, the HBI-120 is currently in use by law enforcement agencies around the world and with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the U.S. border and has aided in the seizure of cash, drugs as well as weapons concealed in vehicles. The addition of the Broadwing-LAD (large area detector) accessory provides not only a deeper scan but also a larger view of items being inspected, including vehicles, and even allows authorities to “sweep” rooms to ensure safe entry for officers.
Backscatter works by organic material reflecting x-rays with high intensity, explains Jim Ryan, Viken Detection CEO. Compare it to the CT scanner at the hospital or the TSA security line at the airport. CT examines what comes through, but when you’re looking for organics like narcotics or explosives (or cash), there’s not a lot going through with the organic material reflecting the x-rays. The HBI-120 looks at the various intensities of the reflecting rays and creates an image your eye would easily recognize.
Now on the market for about two years, the HBI-120 (handheld backscatter imager) is an eight-pound handheld device to allow the officer non-intrusive inspection. It uses a low energy/low power source for x-ray—enough to penetrate the target but poses no danger to the user. (Rest assured, you won’t have to bring along that lead apron from the dentist’s office.)
Quick Features: The HBI-120 & Broadwing-LAD
• Ergonomically designed, 8-lbs. handheld device (12 lbs. with the Broadwing-LAD attached)
• Returns a 2D image in real-time
• With the Broadwing-LAD accessory, officers would be capable of scanning up to 8 to 10 feet above.
• Operates like a smartphone, running on an Android-based system, includes Wi-Fi and GPS.
• Quick and easy connection to main device with a single cable.
Typically, the HBI-120 would require to be roughly six inches away from the target, of which it would penetrate about 12 inches deep—officers need to also move about six inches a second to create the image in real-time. The detachable Broadwing-LAD takes this to a whole new level. “Let’s say you’re doing the outside of a vehicle, where it might take you four or five passes to do a side, with the LAD you’re able to do the whole side with one scan,” says Ryan. Since the accessory is detachable, officers would be able to quickly scan a larger area to find areas of interest and rescan closer and much deeper afterward.
There isn’t an increase of x-ray with the Broadwing-LAD attached, the HBI-120’s energy source doesn’t change. Instead, it increased the area of capturing the reflecting beam. This speeds up the drug interdiction process and more without changing the instrument. “We wanted to be able to give the officers a tool where they could see much deeper into the vehicle to find traps that might be hidden much farther in the vehicle,” says Ryan. “We found that [the LAD] opens up applications beyond drug interdiction. It’s very effective when you’re doing building searches with walls, you’re scanning a much larger area. You can do buildings a lot faster, quicker, and more efficient. It also helps with counter-surveillance activities, you can see wires or behind walls or hidden behind pictures. Then also for raids and things where you can actually see suspects behind attics or behind walls.”
Viken’s vision is to take Viken technology anywhere there is a public safety problem that technology can solve. As quoted in the June 4 announcement, Ryan said, “The addition of our Broadwing-LAD accessory enables superior threat detection across multiple public safety scenarios. As technology plays an ever more significant role in law enforcement, Viken is at the leading edge, developing new devices that are futureproof, multi-layered and open-sourced to allow them to work together with other solutions and keep the public safe.” This technology comes with a price-tag, however. The HBI-120 checks in at roughly $40,000 with the Broadwing-LAD at about $10,000. The company does offer a loan program and training for the product.
Previously, Viken Detection was formerly known as Heuresis. The brand name change was made official February 11. Earlier this year, they also announced a 5-year IDIQ contract award, valued up to $29 million, with CBP for the HBI-120 to help thwart drug-trafficking across the border. ■