Saturday, December 08, 2012

500% increase in DWI blood tests worsened DPS crime-lab staffing shortage

While Gov. Perry and some legislative leaders hope to restrict spending increases next session to the combined rate of inflation and population growth, criminal justice spending continues to be an area where spending trends far outpace those levels. Besides prison spending, which increased far beyond that rate over the years, a notable example are the state's overwhelmed crime labs. An Austin Statesman story on that topic week ("DPS labs face backlog in DWI blood tests," Dec. 6) opened:
In recent years, as police across Texas have increasingly turned to blood tests to build their drunken driving cases, the state crime labs charged with analyzing the samples have stayed the same size.

The result, according to a joint review by the American-Statesman and KVUE News: The labs have become overwhelmed and backlogged, delaying prosecution and forcing defendants to wait months for their cases to be heard.

According to state estimates, the number of blood samples submitted to Texas Department of Safety labs has increased 500 percent in six years.

But the DPS has added no new lab analyst positions in two years, causing the wait time for results to double in the past year.
The story also provides a bit of detail about interim measures to alleviate the problem and additional staffing DPS has proposed to the Lege:
DPS spokesman Tom Vinger didn’t provide statewide numbers showing the increase in blood-alcohol test requests. But at the regional DPS crime lab in Austin, lab workers last year tested 2,600 blood samples — about 40 percent more than the 1,860 samples they tested in 2010.

The amount of time for DPS analysts to work the cases went from about 30 days during the past three years to a current average of 60 days. ...

Also, in an effort to decrease the wait time on blood results, DPS officials said in interviews with the American-Statesman and KVUE that officials have increased the number of analysts conducting blood tests by 20 percent — but only by temporarily moving about 15 employees from other jobs in the labs.

Vinger said the positions were assigned to other lab areas that didn’t have the same volume of samples, allowing the agency to redistribute staff without creating additional backlogs.

Nevertheless, in January, DPS officials said they will ask legislators to add 11 new full-time analysts to their budget. Officials said they don’t yet know how much the additional personnel would cost.

Vinger said the agency last added nine positions to analyze blood specimens in 2009, but it didn’t seek new positions during the 2011 legislative session amid state budget constraints.
One reason for the expansion in DWI blood tests has been a marked decline in DWI conviction rates in recent years, a trend which judges and prosecutors have attributed mainly to the the Driver Responsibility surcharge (which makes defendants more likely to fight DWI cases and judges and prosecutors more likely to acquiesce in reduced charges in the interests of justice). Rather than work to repeal the surcharge, however, police and prosecutors sought to strengthen cases with better evidence (theoretically, anyway), even though that's not the underlying cause of the trend. So as usual, the only remaining solution, at least as far as the criminal justice establishment is concerned, is to increase government spending.

There are areas like DNA testing where advances in technology have spawned increased demand at crime labs and generated backlogs, but the increase in DWI blood samples is due to volitional decisions by local law enforcement. Grits continues to believe the problem would resolve itself if DPS shifted to a fee for service system, letting localities pay when local decisions boost demand for crime lab services.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Umm, Grits, I think you're significantly underestimating the impact and proliferation of prescription drug abuse on the increase in the number of blood tests. The Intoxilyzer doesn't work on these offenders and you just about have to have the blood test to show what these people are on.

If the Lege would criminalize the failure to blow in the alcohol related cases, this would also reduce the number of blood tests--at no cost to the state or counties (other states do this, by the way). Of course it might make it harder for drunk drivers to escape justice, so I'm sure this wouldn't be a popular idea on this blog.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Why, 2:04, is the solution always a new criminal law? Is that really the only possible solution to every problem?

I've seen no evidence that prescription drugs are causing the increased backlog (your comment is the first I've heard that claim) and would bet dollars to donuts the increases are coming from regular old drunk driving cases based on the volume DPS processes.

Anonymous said...

Well it seems to me that by suggesting a "fee for service" charge back to the county taxpayers, you're simply trying to create a disincentive to local law enforcement for doing blood draws--thereby enabling drunks to deprive juries of evidence of their blood alcohol levels by just refusing to blow. You know as we'll as I do how this would impact many smaller counties and municipalities with limited budgets. If you really want to reduce the number of blood tests, you just need to give people a powerful incentive to give a breath specimen. What better incentive than to make it a crime to refuse with the same penal consequences as DWI? I've often thought it odd that we give people the ability to literally hide evidence of their intoxication. In any other circumstance, tampering with evidence is a crime.

As for the prescription drug problem, didn't you just blog on an interim hearing on the problem of prescription drug abuse. If you have any friends over at DPS or who do traffic enforcement, you should check with them and see how many pill cases they are seeing. And these people are messed up way worse than most alcohol drunk drivers.

Anonymous said...

"I've often thought it odd that we give people the ability to literally hide evidence of their intoxication. In any other circumstance, tampering with evidence is a crime."

Not any other circumstance. When a prosecutor hides, withholds or tampers with evidence its just a harmless "error," isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I have an idea. Lets apply the same logic to DWI that prosecutors apply to prosecutorial misconduct. Sure that guy was drunk, but it was just an innocent "error" that he thought he was okay to drive. He meant well, I'm sure, so there should be no consequences. In fact, lets give him an award (like the prosecutors association seems to reward the worst proseuctors).

North Texas Cop said...

Scott, police are acquiring more "blood warrants" and taking blood samples for DWI cases because people like you have demanded it. People who demand greater levels of accountability from their police are going to get it. Videos and SFST are just not enough to secure a DWI conviction in some counties anymore. When and where blood tests are available, cops will be asked why they didn't get one. I have personally seen both judges & juries who refused to convict without a blood test, no matter how obviously intoxicated the driver was.

This issue has absolutely nothing to do with the infamous surcharge. Nothing. It's all about using science and chemistry-based evidence (rather than subjective examinations) to prove that a citizen's bloode-borne chemical cocktail (often a combination of alcohol, prescription meds, & illicit drugs) made them intoxicated while driving. Many times there isn't even a trial when the defense learns that a blood test exists. If anything, the blood tests are clearing dockets and making courts more efficient. I wonder why people wouldn't like that?

One of the reasons that I dislike you and people like you so much is that when we comply with your requests for better accountability, higher standards, and greater certainty in evidence-based charging, you then twist the facts about the results and blame us for the bottleneck, and logistical problems that your demands created. It's become apparent that no standard is high enough and that the critics are actually not interested in professionalizing their police except when it serves their personal agendas. You're complaining about the unintended results of increased police professionalism and then blaming the police for it; which tends to strengthen my unprovable suspicions that you're really an anarchist at heart (I wonder what your vision of a perfect world is like where law, prosecutions, & enforcement apparatus is concerned).

Again, don't blame the cops for responding to calls for continuous improvement or for using hard science in their charging decisions. You asked for it. If you want "more," "better," and "enhanced," when it comes to evidence, accountability, and professionalism, you're going to have to pay for it just like people do with every other profession.

Anonymous said...

"I've often thought it odd that we give people the ability to literally hide evidence of their intoxication"

Yes, it's very "odd" that the Fifth Amendment says, "No person shall ... be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself"? How strange! Bizarre, even! Why should anyone care about that musty old anachronism? Anyway, what's one more constitutional abomination among friends?

North Texas Cop said...

Anonymous at 3:23 and 8:33...

That's exactly why police are now getting warrants for arrestees' blood. It solves evidentiary problems while also complying with the Constitution.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@3:23, several counties already operate on a fee for service basis or else operate their own labs. Somebody's got to pay for it and prosecution costs are generally (and should be) local. As for criminalizing breathalyzer refusal, the US Supreme Court has actually taken up the question of warrantless blood draws this term, and it would be premature for the Lege to do anything on that subject before SCOTUS clarifies the law.

NTC, the surcharge is the main reason for declining DWI conviction rates according to judges and prosecutors who've testified at the Lege, and ironically the decline in conviction rates has coincided with the rise of blood draws, which makes suspect your claims about it clearing dockets, etc.. In that sense, the blood draws are a false solution because the primary, underlying cause of declining conviction rates is not the quality of evidence.

As to the (lack of) substance to the rest of your allegations, please point out where where I've encouraged DWI blood draws, then you can legitimately lambaste me for taking a contradictory stance. Otherwise, you're arguing against a phony straw man again - blasting a position you made up and that I've never taken. It's becoming a tad boring.

As for "one of the reasons I don't like you," etc., you can't imagine how much that breaks my heart! Oh wait, I forgot. I don't care about your opinion of me at all. Never mind.

Anonymous said...

Everyone knows we have a problem with DWI all across the country. And have had it for decades and will continue to have it as long as we have intoxicating substances and vehicles. This is an indisputable fact.

Instead of attacking the issue with a logical approach like an intelligent and educated people would, we continue to create harsher penalties that punish those who DWI, but do absolutely nothing to prevent it in the first place. Statistically, the vast majority of those arrested for DWI present no actual threat to others on the road.

Almost without fail the wrong-way drivers and those who are caught in most deadly accidents have a BAC that is in excess of 0.24%, a level thrice the legal amount. Our legal BAC threshold of 0.08% is ridiculously low. Especially for an experienced drinker who could drive better at twice that than many sober drivers.

Other than creating an entirely new class of criminals the lowering of the legal BAC from 0.10 to 0.08 did absolutely nothing to make our roads safer. Go ahead and lower it to 0.06 and see for yourself that that won't reduce DWI fatalities either.

Let's raise the legal BAC back to 0.10. Then let's use common sense a bit more and raise it to 0.12 between the hours of midnight and 3AM. And finally, let's create a law that has a real chance to make our roads safer: Let's require any place that sells alcohol for on-premise consumption to also have food available for free or at greatly reduced prices so that those who imbibe have an opportunity to sober up before they drive home. Stop serving alcohol at 2AM but keep the doors open until 4AM to feed the drunks.

Increasing the penalties for DWI hasn't worked, so why don't we think outside the box for a change and see what happens.

Anonymous said...

Grits, the blood tests have, in fact, been very effective in clearing the dockets as NTC suggests. In fact, there's an adage in the DWI law vernacular today that "if it bleeds, it pleads." It's the non-blood/breath test cases that are gumming up the works for the very reason NTC suggested. Without a blood test or a breath test evidencing blood alcohol level, juries are no longer as willing to convict based upon the subjective observations of the police officer. Call this the "CSI effect" on juries, if you will.

@8:33...The 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination has absolutely no relation to breath or blood evidence of intoxication--or hair samples, urine, or fingerprints for that matter. The Fifth Amendment only protects you from having to give testimonial evidence--i.e, WORDS. This is a pretty common misconception among the criminal element and their supporters, however. So don't feel bad.

North Texas Cop said...

Typical micro-point positioning from you again, Scott. You have consistently argued in favor of science-based and hard evidence-based prosecution rather than subjective, perception-based testimony. That's exactly what these blood tests are. Now that you have it, you don't like the results. That's not a strawman argument on my part, that's you leaving yourself a back door through which you can crawfish your fat ass so that you are not forced to take a definitive position. Either you want available hard science used for DWI prosecutions or you don't. Which is it?

As usual, your stated understanding of the issues at hand, and your associated critiques, are based on third-party information rather than first hand, practitioner-based experience and real-world observation. The surcharge issue never enters the minds of cops or prosecutors when they make decisions to arrest, charge, & prosecute. Finding better hard evidence with which to support a DWI arrest does. The blood tests are being done to secure convictions through hard science; nothing more, nothing less. They reflect the will and mandates of the citizenry, courts, and critics like yourself.

Anonymous said...

Wow, when you have so many pro-oppressive all powerful government cops and prosecutors slamming you, you must be doing something right. Makes you wonder why they would read a blog that is so pro-criminal (more accurately, pro constitution, individual rights, freedom, etc), as they put it. Keep up the good work, Scott!

Anonymous said...

Isn't it interesting how cops and prosecutors denounce this blog as pro-criminal, yet when it is a prosecutor or cop who is accused of violating the law they become passionately indignant. I'm not just thinking about the rantings of prosecutors anytime the subject of prosecutorial misconduct is raised but also incidents like the stories about the cop who ran through an intersection at 100 miles an hour killing another officer who was working a traffic accident. Anytime a cop is prosecuted his brothers in blue come out of the woodworks with the "how dare you prosecute a police officer" attitude. Seems to me that these guys are pro-criminal also - just depends on who the criminal is.

North Texas Cop said...

@ anon 2:23...

This may shock you but I'm a Jeffersonian conservative who believes strongly in a limited government based on Constitutional principles. I support individual freedom and personal liberty. I'm neither an advocate of oppressive, powerful governments nor anarchists bent on destroying the foundations of our Republic. My sentiments and beliefs are common among Texas peace officers.

I am one of the many cops out there actually doing the real work that matters. We have literally fought, bled, & died while serving you and other citizens. We're not on the sidelines or hiding behind a computer screen. We're out there working for you. Scott is the living personification of the "critic" referenced by Teddy Roosevelt. What "work" has Scott done for you?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, here's a cop who also believed he was "doing real work that matters". Of course he was nothing but a psychopath with a badge, of which we have hundreds of thousands: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/31/execution-date-set-for-sweetwater-cop_n_2049839.html

It makes me seethe with anger anytime I hear the words "cop" and "constitution" together in the same sentence. A cops idea of Constitutional Rights is there fine as long as they don't impeded the cops from making arrests. And any cop who has ever conducted a traffic stop then searched the vehicle for drugs under false pretenses is a God Damned useless piece of filthy shit, and there's not one cop alive who isn't guilty of it.

The one thing I've noticed in my practice during the past five-years is that every cop these days is using the lie that he smelled marijuana when he approached the vehicle. And in 90% of those case the cop is a Goddamned filthy fucking liar!

I apologize for the language, Scott, but it's the truth and you know it is.

Anonymous said...

"This may shock you but I'm a Jeffersonian conservative who believes strongly in a limited government based on Constitutional principles."

It doesn't shock me that you believe yourself to be a "Jeffersonian conservative." Many believe themselves to be things they aren't. If you are truly what you say you are then I assume you have a real problem with what the courts and your fellow officers have done to the 4th amendment. If you are okay with the current state of the 4th amendment then you undoubtedly do support oppressive government and are not a "Jeffersonian" anything.

Anonymous said...

"We have literally fought, bled, & died while serving you and other citizens."

I'll take freedom anyday over the protection of an oppressive government. Its not criminals I worry about. I can protect myself from them. Its the government I'm afraid of.

Anonymous said...

"What "work" has Scott done for you?"

If you were truly a "Jeffersonian conservative" you wouldn't even need to ask that question. Scott has brought attention to many, many problems in the system. "Critics" are a valuable thing in a free society. I suppose you could say the founding fathers were "critics" of the British government. I suppose you would say that Thomas Payne was a "critic" when he published (anonymously, by the way) "Common Sense." It amazes me how people who want to call themselves "conservative" have such a problem with those who exercise their right to free speech by criticizing the government and its officials. I suspect that Scott is more of "Jeffersonian" than you will ever be.

Anonymous said...

I do wonder at the mentality of those posting on this thread who seem to believe it's somehow constitutionally patriotic to get intoxicated, take to the public roads and endanger the lives of other innocent motorists. You are really some selfish, narcissistic--no, make that sociopathic--bastards. It's not about the police or prospectors. It's about you thinking your "rights" are paramount to the rights of others who just happen to innocently be in your way. Heaven forbid that you not be able to go out and get liquored up before heading home. What an oppressive government intrusion into your liberty! Hopefully when the odds catch up with you--and they surely will; the only innocent life you impact will be that of a big stout live oak tree that you wrap your car and drunk ass around all by your selfish, pathetic lonesome!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:01, I had to think for a while where I had heard many of those words before. Then it dawned on me that I had heard all that in a courtroom while facing down the meanest, toughest DWI prosecutor of them all, Lester Blizzard, who was subsequently convicted of DWI himself. http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Prosecutor-targeting-DWIs-suspended-in-1684841.php

And I just have to mention the fact that more cops are arrested on DWI charges than ALL other professions COMBINED: https://twitter.com/NPMRP

Happy Holidays...

Anonymous said...

"more cops are arrested on DWI charges than ALL other professions COMBINED."

Bullshit. Prove it. Cite the source.

rodsmith said...

no 11:59 your wrong on this!

"Without a blood test or a breath test evidencing blood alcohol level, juries are no longer as willing to convict based upon the subjective observations of the police officer. Call this the "CSI effect" on juries, if you will."

More a case of we've heard and had proven so many lies from both our elected officals and law enforcment it's pretty much reached the point that

"if they are mouth is moving they are lieing!"

Means they now HAVE to prove what they say!

Hince the

Office "he was drunk and could not stand up straight"

Jury "Nice statement NOW where is the proof that you are not lieing though your teeth?"

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 8:01 - I wonder at the mentality of people who think that anyone who disagrees with them and stands up for the Constitution and civil liberties is a criminal. You assume that because I believe in the Constitution and that the government should always abide by it, that I advocate drunk driving. Nothing could be more asinine. That's just like the people who say that if you criticize the president you are a racist. It shows a lack of intellectual ability; a lack of insight because you fail to realize that someone can have a legitimate difference of opinion without being an evil criminal or a supporter thereof. Just another shallow, narrow minded government bureaucrat.

Anonymous said...

Btw anon. 8:01 - Even though you disagree with me, I'm not going to say that I hope something bad happens to you. Its truly sad that you wish death or serious injury on somoene just because they disagree with you. If you are a cop, its pretty scary to think of someone like that carrying a gun.

Anonymous said...

8:01 - Demonizing someone you disagree with is the tactic resorted to by those who lack the intellectual ability to carry on an honest debate.

Anonymous said...

Hey, 8:01 - I find it interesting that you want to get so sanctimonious about DWIs when many cops don't take it that seriously. For example, a while back a sheriff's deputy in Smith County was arrested for a DWI. It camse out that he had been stopped while driving drunk a few times before. Once was by Jacksonville PD and they let him go even though he was drunk. I'm sure if I did some digging I could find other instances where officers have failed to arrest their fellow officers for DWI. I've heard that a former Smith County assistant DA was given rides home by the police when they stopped and he was drunk. So, not all of your brethern are as indignant about the issue as you are.

Anonymous said...

NTC is in a Walmart parking lot off 635 and you guessed it, he's commenting while on the clock. Pics are being sent to YouTube of his belly hanging over the steering wheel (yuk).

Not one single comment that's ever been left on this blog has supported the right to drink and drive and he knows it or he would have linking back to it. What he's done is highjacked the comment section in an effort to start pissing matches and it seems to be working. He's even turned off those of us that have LEOs in the family or are our best friends. He goes to the same exact pub every single day and drinks to unwind but sees no problem with needing to drink vs. working out. He's on steroids when he can get them which explains his outburst. He's a real nice guy when he's not turning red faced.

He's well aware of the hundreds of LEOs documented in the media and archived in the various blogs in the USA that have been busted in DWI cases only to rec a slap on the wrist. Injustice Everywhere is just one of the places he used to place similar rants until the format changed. *If he was asked if he's for the charges and punishment to be enhanced regarding any LEO caught comitting crimes (DWI, excessive force) to include mandatory jail time and no longer able to work in LE for life (not even security) he'll call you a commy punk and change the subject.

Ignore him (BTW, he is running around 225lbs. and it's all belly fat) and he'll just end up blogging with himself and eventually will go away.

The cheif is aware of cops blogging on the clock and the harrasment of citizens. His personal lap top will be swept up in an audit and poof he'll be gone. *Grits, keep a record of his addresses because he'll be changing his anon. soon. Check out the places he rants at and you'll see a patern of bullying behind three letters.

Now, back to blog post.

North Texas Cop said...

Dear Anon 1:48,

Thanks for the laugh. Seriously, that's some funny stuff. If you only knew how wrong you are about...well...all of it. Still, yours is an interesting example of the stereotyping and pigeonholing which only exacerbates the "us vs. them" mentality that I and many other cops have been trying to minimize. It's sometimes important to be reminded that small-minded bigots who don't want to be bothered with facts are still a serious impediment to progress. Take care.