The Lafayette Police Department last week showcased its new breath alcohol testing bus, a $350,000 piece of machinery that will expedite the time it takes to process cases of suspected impaired drivers.
The unit, one of four in use across the state, was paid for with a grant provided by the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission.
Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said the BAT bus, as it is commonly known, is equipped with two breath-testing stations.
The large black and white bus also has interior and exterior video cameras; computers to help officers trace suspects’ arrest records; and facilities to collect and store blood evidence. It can process up to 12 breath tests per hour, Craft said.
The bus will be parked near sobriety checkpoints, used in areas experiencing high crash rates or taken to the scene of fatalities for collection of blood samples from the drivers, Craft has said.
The unit will also be used regionally by other police departments and sheriffs’ offices across Acadiana. The regional approach to policing impaired driving was credited as one of the reasons Lafayette was chosen to receive the grant from LHSC, Craft has said.
When the bus was unveiled during a news conference last week, Craft said impaired drivers do not stop at city or parish lines.
Those jurisdictions or agencies in need of the bus can request it from Lafayette police. An officer will accompany the bus, but enforcement will be left up to the agency in charge, said Cpl. Paul Mouton, spokesman for Lafayette police.
All traffic and Alcohol Traffic Action Campaign officers are being trained on how to use the bus, which was expected to be put into full service Monday Craft said.
If the bus lives up to expectations, arrests of suspected impaired drivers should greatly increase, which would further a trend that has been in place since the department revived its ATAC unit in 2009.
Only two years earlier, arrests for those suspected of being impaired stood at 182.
By 2010, that number had climbed to 837, and is expected to surpass 1,000 this year, according to Police Department statistics.
ATAC has one sergeant and three officers, up from two officers in 2009, Craft said, adding that the department hopes to add two officers by the end of the year.
Craft cites Lafayette’s ranking as a Tier One community — meaning the area has one of the highest percentages of alcohol-related fatalities and accidents — as a reason for the heightened awareness about impaired driving.
LHSC Executive Director John A. LeBlanc has said removing impaired drivers from the roadway is critical to reducing Louisiana’s traffic fatality rate, as 42 percent of the state’s 2010 crash deaths were alcohol-related. He said authorities statewide arrested more than 31,000 suspected impaired drivers last year.
LeBlanc said in a news release that LSHC plans to have one of the BAT buses available for use by law enforcement agencies across the state.
Pat Taylor, who heads the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said she has not yet seen the new BAT bus. However, she said she has high hopes for it.
Taylor said those within MADD were disappointed when ATAC was disbanded in 2005 due to a lack of resources. The group was delighted when ATAC returned. She called ATAC’s work “tremendous.”
“More active than they’ve ever been,” Taylor said.
That, too, is a trend that’s likely to continue now that officers can conduct breath tests on the scene, saving them from making repeated trips back to headquarters, Craft said.
Jason Brown covers law enforcement in the Acadiana bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.