New 24/7 DUI monitoring program requires local agency funding

by: Natasha Chen Updated:

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KENT, Wash. —

A 24/7 monitoring program for repeat drunk drivers has been hailed as a success in other states, but the five agencies chosen to pilot the program in Washington have to find the funds to get it started.

The state legislature had intended the pilot program to begin Jan. 1, 2014, where second-time DUI offenders would be held in jail until they could be seen by a judge.  That judge could then order an interlock device on their cars or order them to participate in the 24/7 monitoring program.

The program requires participants to report to a site twice a day for a breath test, or wear an electronic device, such as an ankle bracelet that measures alcohol coming from their sweat.

“In the past, you had to be convicted for the crime before you were imposed with those sanctions. Now, if you’re arrested, you can go into the 24/7 program,” said Bruce Bjork, the program manager.

If participants fail a breath test, they could be escorted to jail.

The state of Washington has set aside less than $1 million to cover operating and coordinating costs at the state level, but the five pilot areas of Chelan County, Spokane County, Thurston County, city of Kent and city of Centralia will need to find their own resources for implementation.

Part of the state money may go toward software to record the data.  That software may cost more than $100,000.

Kent police Chief Ken Thomas said, “It would be nice if the money was there upfront. In this case, it’s not. We’re going to do the best we can to try to make the program work.”

Thomas said their department is already coordinating with judges, prosecutors, public defenders and jail administrators to make this program work.

Still, because of the lack of software and other logistical details, the program may not get started right away on Wednesday.

Some judges and public defenders are concerned that there may be legal challenges to holding someone in custody for failing a breath test, even before the person is convicted.

But the overall success of the program in South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana has given great encouragement to those hoping to stop repeat offenders in Washington.

Thomas said that Kent is already aggressively participating in programs and measures to curb drunk driving, and that they volunteered to be part of the pilot.

Bjork said that he received input from many cities and counties hoping to participate. The state hopes to have all counties and cities implement the program by 2017.