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Trafford police suspend use of DUI breath tests

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 8:12 p.m.

Trafford police this month joined the state police in discontinuing their use of breath testing in suspected drunken-driving cases while the technology is scrutinized before a state appellate court.

Capt. Carmen Disso said he suspended his department's use of its DataMaster breath-test devices after learning about calibration issues from the district attorney's offices in the region. Instead of using a breath test, police will drive a suspect to a hospital for a blood test to determine intoxication, Disso said.

“We don't know what will come of it,” Disso said. “We'll play it by ear. In the meantime, we'll be on the side of caution.”

The situation arises from a Dauphin County judge's December ruling that breath tests are not accurate at levels beyond 0.15 percent. Pennsylvania motorists who have a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.08 percent are considered to be impaired.

Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico appealed the judge's ruling to the state Superior Court.

Though state police announced at the end of January that they would use only blood testing, Pittsburgh police said this month that they would continue to use breath tests.

The court case won't affect the Manor or Penn Township police departments, which only use blood testing. Penn Township police Chief John Otto said the situation was a topic during a recent meeting of Westmoreland County police chiefs.

“It's definitely got people talking,” he said.

Disso said Trafford police have had the devices for about five years, but not all of his eight officers were certified to use them.

“The benefit (of a breath test) is it keeps my officers in the borough instead of going to a hospital,” he said.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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