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Prosecutor's Office purchases PBTs for Crawford police

April 02, 2008
Police officers in Crawford County are now better equipped to determine if a person is driving under the influence of alcohol thanks to the efforts of the Crawford County Prosecutor's Office.

Crawford County Sheriff's Deputy Andy Beals, left, and Indiana Conservation Officer Dennis Talley, right, demonstrate how a portable breath test is administered last week. Milltown Marshal Ray Saylor is also pictured. (Photo by Chris Adams)
Prosecutor Cheryl Hillenburg recently applied for and received a Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) that can be used for law enforcement programs, prosecution and court programs, drug treatment programs and technology improvements. Hillenburg had to supply a match of $1,112 for the $10,000 grant. The matching funds came from fees collected through the court system.

"Once I got the grant, I was able to buy 12 portable breath testers (PBTs)" Hillenburg said. "All of the local officers now have a new PBT to carry in their patrol car. I also bought extra mouthpieces for the units."

The officers in the Crawford County Sheriff's Department have had PBTs for several years, but many are old and worn out.

"They are good to have," Sheriff Tim Wilkerson said, "but we always use them as a last resort. We're trained that way. Usually, when one of us stops someone, we already have an idea that something isn't right. Sometimes they will be crossing over the center lane, or will be driving erratically.

"Once we stop them, we'll do a field sobriety test first, and if we're still not sure, we can use the PBT, but it is the last thing we do. They are really accurate, and will help an officer determine if there's alcohol involved, but they're not admissible in court," he added.

"So, once we determine someone has been drinking, we can take them into custody, bring them to the jail and test them on our regular breathalyzer there. It is extremely accurate and the results can be used in court.

Many PBTs, including the new units in Crawford County, use fuel cell technology. The fuel cell has two platinum electrodes with a porous acid-electrolyte material sandwiched in between them. As the exhaled air from the suspect flows past one side off the fuel cell, the platinum oxidizes any alcohol in the air to produce acetic acid, protons and electrons. The electrons flow through a wire from the platinum electrode. The wire is connected to an electrical-current meter and to the platinum electrode on the other side. The protons move through the lower portion of the fuel cell and combine with oxygen and the electrons on the other side to form water. The more alcohol that becomes oxidized, the greater the electrical current. A microprocessor measures the electrical current and calculates the BAC.

Operators of any breath alcohol testing device must be trained in the use and calibration of the device, especially if the results are to be used in court.

"Most of our officers are trained and certified in the use of breathalyzers," Wilkerson said. "And the main unit we use at the jail is leased from the state for $650 a year, and they do all the maintenance on the unit."

According to a study completed in 1999, of the 42,000 traffic deaths in the United States that year, 38 percent were related to alcohol. The breathalyzer was invented by Dr. Robert Borkenstein of the Indiana State Police in 1954.

Hillenburg said some of the money left over from the JAG grant will be used to buy new digital cameras for all of the officers.

"These are important for crime scenes," Hillenburg said. "Every officer should have one. The cameras list for about $229 each, but if we buy several, Wal-Mart will sell them to us at a reduced rate."

Most officers have digital cameras already, but, like the PBTs, many of them are worn out or have suffered damage and are no longer usable.

Hillenburg also plans to pay a portion of the cost of the Indiana Data and Communications System for the sheriff's department. The system allows officers access to state police data banks and communications. Presently, if the officers need information on someone who they have pulled over, such as warrant or criminal information, they have to call it in to the state police post at Jasper, and at times, precious minutes are lost. The new system will allow them almost instant access to the information, which could reduce risk for the officers.

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