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Hand-Held Laser Device Could Help Police Investigate and Prosecute Narcotics Cases

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A new hand-held laser device, which can immediately identify illegal drugs, could be a big help to police in investigating and prosecuting narcotics cases, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The device, called TruNarc, could help officers identify synthetic drugs such as “bath salts,” which are more difficult to classify than older illegal drugs, the article notes. TruNarc’s digital library of chemical compounds can be updated easily as new synthetic drugs start appearing on the streets.

Paul Keenan, Chief of Police in Quincy, Massachusetts, has been impressed with the device. His detectives have been using TruNarc for months along with traditional drug-testing kits. “It’s cop-proof. It’s rugged, dependable and easy to use,” he said. The device costs nearly $20,000 per unit.

He said the device could be as useful as breath analyzers employed in driving under the influence (DUI) cases. Police use breath analyzers to produce data that is routinely accepted in court, the newspaper states. Keenan said they have led to more guilty pleas and fewer trials in DUI cases.

Judges have not yet ruled whether data obtained from TruNarc is admissible in court. In Quincy, police officers are using the device in all narcotics cases, and are hoping judges will begin to accept the results.

Some drug testing experts predict results from the device are not likely to be admitted in court.

TruNarc relies on a technology, called Raman spectroscopy, which is already used in many drug labs. Joseph Bozenko of the Drug Enforcement Administration, who uses a Raman-spectroscopy device, cautioned that the technology is not a substitute for a full drug analysis in a certified lab. “I would not go to court based on a test I ran in a clandestine laboratory in the middle of a mountain crime scene,” he said. Other critics say lab technology should not be used by police who do not have a background in science.

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