Local police change protocols to protect officers from opioid overdoses

Published: Mar. 1, 2018 at 10:24 AM CST
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The Waco Police Department has changed its protocols to protect officers from accidental opioid overdoses in drug cases.

Officers no longer perform field tests, but instead send any suspicious substances directly to the lab, Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said.

The change requires more resources, but Swanton said it’s well worth the hassle.

Without a field test to confirm whether a suspicious substance is an illegal narcotic, officers aren’t able to make immediate arrests in some cases.

But if lab tests are positive, officers will instead seek arrest warrants.

Officers frequently come across opioids or people who are under the influence of the drugs and one big reason is the increasing use of fentanyl, Swanton said.

“We know of cases where officers have accidentally overdosed by searching a vehicle,” Swanton said.

“K9 officers have overdosed by searching a vehicle. We’re extremely cautious when it comes to that product specifically.”

He said officers now ride around with kits that consist of a hazmat suit, a mask and gloves to make sure officers stay safe while handling unknown substances in the field.

Most of the policy changes just give officers on the streets more options and tools to combat opioids while staying safe.

Safety is a team effort.

The Waco Fire Department has technology that helps to identify strange substances.

“They have a specific air quality monitoring system they can use which sniffs the air around whatever we need it sniffed around,” Swanton said.

“It could be a Baggie (or a) suitcase. And their trained people on the system can tell us what the product is w/o us touching it.”

He said despite changes in protocol, Swanton said officer’s street smarts will keep them the safest while on duty.