SPD gains new tool in fighting premature deaths

Prevention Management Organization donates state-of-the-art breathalyzers to town


The Saratoga Police Department has received five new portable Breathalyzer machines thanks to a donation by Prevention Management Organization (PMO) of Wyoming.

Saratoga Police Department (SPD) Chief Robert Bifano says the machines replaced older machines that had been in use since Bifano started with the Department eight years ago. One of the older machines was donated to the Town of Encampment Police Department, a couple will be kept as spares and the SPD has also offered older machines to neighboring departments, Bifano said.

“When we look at the causes of premature death in Wyoming, consistently we see that they are related to tobacco use and adult binge drinking,” said Sally Patton of PMO during a September interview with the Saratoga Sun. PMO’s mission is to effect programs that are shown to be effective in reducing deaths caused by alcohol abuse, Patton said.

Law enforcement agencies are key partners in helping fight premature deaths caused not only by alcohol consumption, but drugs, Patton said. “Anything that we can do to prevent overconsumption and support law enforcement and their efforts resulted in the partnership that allowed us to be able to offer the breathalyzers.”

“In our smaller communities, resources are so tapped and law enforcement is so understaffed,” Patton said. “I think that the general public doesn’t understand the kinds of things that they (police officers) are faced with.”

Sometimes, investigations of alcohol-related crimes take a back seat to more pressing issues out of necessity, Patton says. A police department that is stretched thin may have to respond to urgent calls that can take time away from officers intervening in overconsumption cases. Portable breathalyzers, like the ones donated to SPD, give officers one more tool to help them more effectively investigate cases and make determinations about whether a suspect is dangerously intoxicated, she said.

The new Breathalyzer machines are kept in police vehicles and are used alongside field sobriety tests to determine whether a subject is intoxicated, Bifano said. Readings from the machines are not admissible in court as evidence, Bifano said, but are useful to the officers in determining whether a person is impaired due to being intoxicated, or if there is another explanation for the impairment, such as a medical condition.”

The newer machines are far more powerful and easier to use, Bifano said. There are calibration and testing procedures that must be done on a regular basis to ensure the machines function correctly, he said, and the newer machines the department is now using are far easier to perform those calibrations and tests upon, Bifano said.

The machines are also more user-friendly and offer functions the older machines did not have. “It just seems that they’re a lot more user-friendly unit, they have a lot more functions and they’re going to be a lot easier for us to maintain,” Bifano said. “It’s a lot more advanced unit.”

The newer machines allows officers to test large numbers of people for alcohol without requiring them to blow into the machine. In some instances, he said, schools may request the police to perform checks of students as part of a “zero tolerance” policy. By having students breathe on a probe held by an officer, the machine will answer very quickly if the person has had any alcohol, Bifano said.

But perhaps the best advantage of receiving new portable breathalyzers for free is the ability for the SPD to pay forward some of its good fortune. Because the department has all new gear, they can now donate their old equipment to other departments in the area that are in need, Bifano says.

The department has given one of its old machines to the Encampment Police Department, so the officer there can use the machine to help make determinations about someone’s level of impairment, and decide whether to take the subject into custody and transport them to Saratoga for testing that is admissible in court.

Bifano also said he has offered one of the machines to the Town Marshal in Hanna.

“The good fortune comes here, so you want to pass it around,” Bifano says. “We would like to keep one or maybe two here as spares, but I think we have three or four sitting here so if we can get them to people that need them, we’d like that, because they’re a lot of money for some of these smaller towns to come up with.”


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