Quincy police said they are hoping a new drug-detecting technology will be allowed in court, after seeing success with a pilot version of the program in the last 18 months.
TruNarc is a portable drug-detection device the size of a GPS. Held up to any substance, and even through plastic, a small laser vibrates through the different compounds available and comes back with the chemical fingerprint match in the machine’s library 15-20 seconds later.
The device is basically a portable version of what lab technicians use to determine drugs and pharmaceutical compounds, and with this week's official release of the device by the manufacturer, Waltham-based Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., police are already looking ahead to the future possibilities.
“As time goes on … hopefully, we can utilize this as a standard instead of having the chemist come in to the court,” said Lt. Patrick Glynn, the head of the Quincy police drug unit.
Currently, chemists who test the compounds must be present in court so that the suspects can “face their accuser”.
That precedent began in a 2009 US Supreme Court case in which the defendant was released because the chemist wasn’t there to testify in the drug trial.
“Now, in every drug case, the chemist that handled every substance comes in and testifies. With budgets, that’s not always feasible.'' said Glynn. "What we’re hoping is the printout that comes from analysis of the drugs, coupled with officer experience and testimony, will be enough to forward the case. If we have to wait for the cert from the lab, this will buy us time.”
It has been accepted in the US District Court in Delaware for narcotics detection, Glynn said, and as the more cases are brought to court showing this type of technology, the sooner the Massachusetts courts will accept it.
“It will take a bit of time for the process to go through. But it’s not if it’s accepted in court, but when,” Glynn said.
The devices cost around $20,000 apiece, and Quincy is hoping to purchase two. The money for the device will come from asset forfeiture funds.
Some training is needed to use the device, and thus far, the device has been 100 percent accurate – continually matching up with results that are sent off to the lab, the manufacturer says.
It’s quicker, more accurate, and involves less risk than the previous method, where portions of a drug had to be individually tested for presence of suspected materials, Glynn said.
“We no longer have to take the drugs out of the packaging, we can just scan through any packaging. Which makes it very unique,” Glynn said.
The reading is then synced with a database, and that data can be downloaded and printed later.
Glynn compared it to the evolution of Breathalyzer tests. The technology is at its beginning, but will soon become the norm, he predicted.
“It’s the idea of a crawl, walk, run. We’re in between the walk and run, getting it out there, and getting it permissible in court,” he said.