During the next five months, nearly 100 law enforcement officers from northern Beaufort County will be trained to use new state-of-the-art breath-test machine as the state prepares to implement tougher DUI laws.
With a one-time, $1.8-million appropriation from Gov. Mark Sanford's office, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division purchased more than 400 DataMaster DMT alcohol breath-testing machines and will begin distributing them to law enforcement agencies across the state early next year.
The new Windows-based operating systems will replace the BAC DataMaster breath analyzer machines that South Carolina law enforcement has been using for more than 20 years.
"The new machines are more user-friendly, have touch screens, are easier to read and operate and also allow the officer to immediately scan drivers' licenses rather than having to manually input information into SLED's database," said Melissa Munn, spokeswoman for the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy in Columbia.
Police from around the state will be trained on the equipment at the academy.
Each machine costs approximately $10,000. Individual departments won't pay for the machines or for any maintenance costs.
"The machines are furnished for the departments by SLED and are all maintained by contractors paid by SLED," Munn said. "The departments have no initial expense and don't have to pay for the machines ... even the printer paper is furnished by SLED for the first year."
The new machines will begin being used by area law enforcement at noon Feb. 10, the date that new, stricter state DUI laws take effect.
The new DUI laws call for tougher penalties for first-time offenders, such as requiring them to enroll in drug and alcohol treatment programs. The new laws also remove community service as a sentencing option for second and subsequent offenses.
The laws will allow for a tiered penalty system with harsher punishments for those suspects found to be grossly intoxicated.
Law enforcement officials are required to complete a four-hour DataMaster certification course to qualify to operate the new equipment.
WHO GETS THE NEW MACHINES?
Beaufort County will receive five machines from South Carolina Law Enforcement Division:
• Two will go to the Beaufort County Detention Center, to be shared with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, the Port Royal Police Department and the Beaufort Police Department.
• One will go to the Bluffton Police Department.
• One will go to the Hilton Head substation of the Sheriff's Office.
• One will go to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, which is phasing in a civilian police force.