LAFAYETTE — To further combat drunken driving in Lafayette, the Lafayette Police Department on Wednesday unveiled its newest tool: the breath alcohol testing bus.
The so-called BAT bus sports the Police Department’s black and white colors, and is equipped with two breath-testing stations, interior and exterior video cameras, computers to trace suspects’ arrest records and facilities to collect and store blood evidence, officials said.
The $350,000 bus was purchased with a grant provided by the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, and is one of at least four in use in departments across the state, said Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, LHSC executive director.
“This breath alcohol testing unit is going to greatly reduce the time it takes to process a DWI,” LeBlanc said during a news conference Wednesday. “It’s also going to lend itself to more accuracy in reports, which translates to more conviction rates.”
The unit can process up to 12 breath tests per hour, Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said.
The bus will be used by the department’s Alcohol Traffic Action Campaign unit, which arrested 837 suspected impaired drivers in 2010 and is well on its way to arresting more than 1,000 people this year, Craft said.
To aid officers on scene, the bus’ exterior cameras can swivel 360 degrees and is equipped with flood lights to ensure that officers are working in a well-lit area, Craft said.
The unit will be used during sobriety checkpoints or in areas with high traffic crash rates, Craft said.
When the unit is in use, officers will not have to return to headquarters to conduct sobriety tests.
He said the unit also allows officers to conduct field sobriety tests, including “walking the yellow line,” can be done inside the bus.
“All of those things can be done right there, on scene, which will help us in processing impaired drivers,” Craft said.
The unit is assigned to the Lafayette Police Department, but it will be used on a regional level by neighboring police departments and sheriff’s offices, Craft said.
“Impaired drivers don’t observe boundaries,” Craft said. “They don’t stop at the city limits. They don’t stop at the parish lines. They’re all over the place at any given time.”
City-Parish President Joey Durel said it is hard to prevent things as serious as murders, which tend to happen at the spur of the moment.
“This is one of those places where we can have an effect on it. We can be proactive and make a difference and save lives,” Durel said.