This afternoon, members of the New Orleans Police Department (including Chief Ronal Serpas) and officials from the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission (LHSC) gathered the press at an NOPD warehouse to unveil the vehicle they're calling the Batmobile (Breath Alcohol Testing Mobile ... get it?).— aka a 38-foot mobile command unit to be used at drunk-driving checkpoints.
Purchased through a grant from the LHSC, the $350,000 mobile DWI unit is outfitted with room for four suspected drunks to wait in front while someone else in the back has the honor of blowing in a tube (or peeing in a cup, if that's your thing). Security cameras are everywhere inside (except, presumably, the bathroom). An outdoor mounted camera will record field sobriety tests.
More images and info under the jump ...
Serpas has made no secret of his faith in checkpoints as crime-fighting tools; he was the NOPD's DWI coordinator back in the 1990s, during his first tour of duty on the New Orleans force. "But we never had anything like this," he said.
The Batmobile has a retractable awning, sturdy steps for unsteady legs, and a back area where breathalyzers will be performed, complete with a very solid chair and a rubber floor. ("The whole thing can be hosed off," said one cop.) The front is a hybrid between a Winnebago cockpit, a conference room and a holding room, and a passthrough between the two holds a small refrigerator, a microwave and a toilet stall.
Lt. Avery Howard, the NOPD's DWI commander, laid out the steps for any traffic stop involving a suspected drunk driver, beginning with a three-part field sobriety test. Should a driver fail that, then it's into the Batmobile, where a breath test or a urine test can be administered. Blood tests are not available on the spot — "You'd need a phlebotomist for that," said Howard — so those taking a blood test would have to be transported to a hospital.
Serpas, who loves statistics, came armed with a couple, saying DWI arrests were up 31 percent over this time in 2010, and that overall the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities are down, from about 50 percent to 42 percent. He said drunk driving is the ultimate "stranger crime. You should be shaking in your boots from a drunk driver can do to you."
Tonight's checkpoint will be "downtown" (no specifics given), between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. New Orleanians have taken to posting the exact locations of checkpoints on Facebook and Twitter as they come across them. What do the police think of that?
Howard shrugged. "What can you do?" he said.