Staying sober with the help of a 'selfie'

Published: Jul. 6, 2016 at 5:12 PM PDT
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For many it begins with a traffic stop and arrest for DUI.

Those arrested find themselves in a special drug and alcohol court where the aim is to change lives by enforcing and maintaining sobriety through community service and constant, though unscheduled and random, monitoring.

For the accused, that's meant getting a call at any time, summoning you to the courthouse for a breathalizer test. If you live or work a good distance away, that can be a challenge and a setback.

"Most of these have a DUI so they don't have licenses," says Chief Marshal Justin Roper. "And that requires sometimes several buses and several hours for them to come down for a breathalizer test.

Roper adds that the court wants these pre-trial accused to continue to work and lead otherwise normal lives while still meeting their responsibilities to the public and the court. The logistics of the monitoring schedule makes that difficult.

Roper came across an alternative and Reno is giving it a try. It involves a smartphone linked to a tiny breathalizer.

The accused begins each day with a call to get the daily code. Then, at random times during the day, he will get a call prompting him to give himself a breathalizer test.

They have to complete that test in a given time frame.

"There's a 30-minute window counting down letting them know how much time they have left."

They blow into the tiny breathalizer, while using the smartphone to take a 'selfie' confirming that it is them. The results are monitored and any issues--alcohol presence, slurred speech, or late response--are reported.

It imposes the same discipline without the disruption of a trip to the courthouse and--instead of one test a day--the court is checking on the accused multiple times throughout the day.

"We can do five or six tests a day per person without having them come in."

The company providing the breathalizers does the monitoring and gets the $4 a day fee charged to the accused. There's no cost to the city and it frees up is marshals for other duties.

So far it seems to be working.

"We have it on five defendants at the moment," says Roper. "It's been reliable. We haven't had any issues with the equipment out there. People have been blowing and we've had good feedback."

So far, it's been used only on pre-trial accused. If all goes well, it's likely it will be expanded to those on probation.

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