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Wednesday, March 02, 2011
$1M in DWI Machines Never Used
By Astrid Galvan
Copyright © 2011 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
Taxpayers spent more than $1 million for three highly touted DWI testing machines that were left forgotten in a Bernalillo County conference room and are now considered "obsolete."
Sheriff Dan Houston recently discovered the machines, once thought to be revolutionary, sitting in boxes in the department headquarters' conference room, which is used daily for meetings and news conferences.
"They're anchors; they're obsolete," said Houston, who took office Jan. 1. "This is certainly not something I would have (purchased)."
The machines, developed by local company TruTouch with the help of federal grants, are supposed to measure a person's level of intoxication by shining light on the arm and then measuring the light that returns to the skin's surface.
TruTouch has not responded to requests for comment over the past few days.
The company's test was supposed to take a minute, compared to the seven minutes or so it takes to administer a breath test, according to Journal stories written about the purchase in 2008.
The machines were purchased with state money by then-Sheriff Darren White, after two federal grants helped pay for their development.
The total cost: $1.1 million.
White, who is now Albuquerque's public safety director, said the machines were never used because nobody at the sheriff's office could get TruTouch to teach them how to use the devices.
However, a company news release says those machines, and a newer version under development, do not require user training, according to a Journal story published in January on venture capital investments for the company.
The sheriff's department first got involved with TruTouch around 2003, when sheriff's officials met with the company.
In 2005, the department was chosen by the federal government to help develop and pilot the machines along with TruTouch, according to sheriff's grant administrator Mark David.
That year, the department was awarded a $246,000 grant by a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, David said. A year later, BCSO was granted another $493,000, also used to help develop the machines. Finally, in 2008, White purchased three machines for a total of $380,000, which came from state appropriations.
Deputies were supposed to start using the machines on the streets that summer.
But they didn't know how to work the machines, and there were no manuals, White said. When the department tried contacting the company, nobody responded, he said.
"We just became frustrated, and after all these attempts, (TruTouch) wouldn't work with us," White said. "I think at the end of the day, the company could have been a little more cooperative with us."
So the machines sat untouched. And while they sat untouched, so did any opportunity to get them certified to be administered in court, a lengthy process that can take years, Houston said.
The sheriff said there's no use for the machines now, and no money to purchase the newer ones.
Still, White said there is hope for successful devices in the future that are based on the technology the sheriff's office helped develop. In fact, within the past three months, the company has acquired at least $3.4 million in investments to keep developing its machines.
The latest version can provide intoxication level results in 15 seconds. Older devices are being used in military, oil drilling, law enforcement support and transportation operations around the country, the company has told the Journal.
"I'm still very proud of the fact we were involved in the program because I think that from the beginning, everybody agreed that this technology could revolutionize — and still may revolutionize — the way we conduct DWI investigations. But it's very unfortunate that the particular equipment could not be utilized for its intended purposes," White said.