Her announcement came on the eve of the St. Patrick's Day weekend, typically a high-risk time for drug- and alcohol-impaired driving and related crime.
“We're here today to introduce a technology to be used by our San Diego Police Department to help detect drivers who make the 'wrong' decision to drive while under the influence of not only alcohol, but also of drugs,” said Zimmerman who added, “Public safety is a shared responsibility, and DUI's are a 100 percent preventable crime.”
For those opting to drive under the influence of drugs, Zimmerman noted the Dragers “are another tool we will use to find you, arrest you, and prevent you from endangering our community.”
At the press conference, Zimmerman introduced the Drager 5000. The oral-fluid screening device tests saliva for the presence of seven different drugs including THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Recreational use of marijuana was passed by voters in a 2016 statewide ballot initiative.
The police chief said the two Drager mobile drug testers, which cost about $6,000 apiece, will be used mostly at DUI checkpoints initially. But she pointed out their transportability will make them valuable in the field as well.
Zimmerman said officers are being trained to become expert in identifying the symptoms of drug-influenced drivers. Those suspected of DUID will then be asked to submit to the Drager test, which is similar to tests administered to suspected drunk drivers.
Noting SDPD will be the first police department in San Diego to utilize the oral drug-testing devices, Zimmerman pointed out the Dragers only test for measurable amounts of illicit substances present in a driver's system. Those testing positive will be asked later to take a chemical test revealing the exact level of drugs in their system.
Asked whether there were set standards, like alcohol, to measure whether a drugged person is intoxicated or not, officials replied there isn't at present.
“Impairment is impairment whether you're driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance,” responded deputy city attorney Taylor Garrot. “If your system can't handle that (drug) level, and you're not able to operate a vehicle with the same care as a sober person – then you shouldn't be driving.”
Zimmerman added SDPD's response in acquiring the new drug-testing devices was prompted, in part, by the experience of Colorado law enforcement that has witnessed an increase in drug-impaired driving following recreational marijuana's passage in that state.
During her 34-year law enforcement career, Zimmerman said she's personally witnessed “the devastation driving under the influence leaves on individuals, families and on our community.
“It's all about safety,” the police chief concluded.
The Drager testing devices were funded through a private endowment managed by the San Diego Police Officers Foundation.
SDPD also announced its intention to continue working with the San Diego City Attorney’s Office and their DUID Vertical Prosecution Unit. Last year, that unit prosecuted 282 drug and drug/alcohol-impaired cases (up from 150 cases the previous year), the majority of them purely drug DUI cases, with a 98 percent conviction rate. The office as a whole prosecuted more than 2,700 DUI cases during this period.
Drivers caught driving impaired can expect the impact of a DUI arrest to include jail time, fines, fees, DUI classes and other expenses that can exceed $10,000.
To report suspected drunken drivers call 911.
The San Diego Police Department reminds everyone to call 9-1-1 to report drunk drivers.