WAAY 31 I-TEAM: Huntsville police explain the accuracy of drug field testing kits

The Huntsville Police Department explained how they picked the kit they use and how it works.

Posted: Oct 16, 2019 8:20 PM
Updated: Oct 17, 2019 7:38 AM

The WAAY 31 I-TEAM worked to learn more about drug field testing kits after an Oklahoma man was sentenced to prison for 15 years for carrying around powdered milk. A field test falsely considered it cocaine. By the time a state lab finished its tests and discovered the mistake, the man already pleaded guilty.

WAAY 31 asked police if a similar error could happen in North Alabama.

Lt. Tony McElyea, the commander of the STAC team, said in his 10 years with the narcotics department, he can't recall any false positives from field tests.

"For as long as I've been a police officer, 15 years, and long before that, we've done it. It's very essential to how we do our job and we take pride in how we do our job. We only put people in jail who deserve to be put in jail," he said.

McElyea explained before the department purchased kits, they researched several different field tests and reached out to other agencies to find out if they're accurate.

Both the Limestone County and Marshall County sheriff's offices said they use kits as well. They haven't had any problems with them.

All agencies told WAAY 31 they would never have a case go to court until results from the Department of Forensics are returned.

"It gives you probable cause to make an arrest. Then, once they do that and it comes back positive, they take them to the jail. They transport them to the Department of Forensic scientists for their official test," he said.

The department also uses a machine called TruNarc. It sends lasers through a substance and comes back with a result that tells them in the field what drug it is or if it's not a drug at all. Officers say it prevents any possible exposure to a possibly deadly narcotic, which makes their job safer.

"TruNarc is a $25,000 machine. It actually breaks down the chemicals inside of each substance, so you can get a very reliable reading.

Huntsville police shared only drug agents and supervisors carry field tests with them.

Patrol officers who think someone might have drugs call for assistance to get substances tested out in the field.

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