Jasper police now have a new tool in its fight against illegal drugs, a hand-held laser device that officials say can immediately identify illegal drugs.
The TruNarc device was recently transferred from the Walker County District Attorney’s Office to the Jasper Police Department and was put to use on drug cases starting last week.
Walker County District Attorney Bill Adair said the use of the machine should speed up drug cases that often times remain backlogged due to the slow times it takes to get analysis back from traditional laboratories.
“There is such a backlog at the forensic labs that sometimes it takes month or even years to get information back to us,” Adair said. “This allows officers in our area to know immediately what they are dealing with during a situation where drugs are found.”
Adair said the machine was originally obtained by his office from Jacksonville State University, but he has transferred it to JPD because that is where it was most needed.
“The officers need a tool like this in the field,” Adair said.
Sgt. David Trotter of the Jasper Police Department said the device was used on Wednesday morning after a stop by officers turned up possible narcotics in the vehicle. He said it will recognize up to 450 different controlled substances and the library is updated as new drugs are known to have entered the country.
“We’ve already put it to use, and it works great,” Trotter said. “It has the ability to analyze the drugs through a package, such as a plastic baggy.”
Trotter said officers use rubber gloves when handling narcotics, but the drug scanner adds another layer of safety, because officers do not have to handle the drugs.
“It is not only a good way for us to determine what drugs we are dealing with, but it is also an officer safety measure. With things like fentanyl out there, this makes it much safer for us to handle, because it can be read through the packaging most of the time.”
Jasper Police Chief J.C. Poe said he is amazed by the technology available to officers these days.
“I would have never imagined years ago that we would be able to use something like this to determine the drugs that we are dealing with,” he said. “It is going to help us in several ways. Anytime that we can quickly identify suspected narcotics, it can help us be able to get drugs and drug dealers off the streets.”
TruNarc uses Raman spectroscopy, which throws a small laser light at a substance. Each chemical compound scatters the light in a slightly different pattern, and the device then compares the pattern with those in its library to identify the substance.
Adair compared the machines to how breath analyzers are used with suspected drunken drivers and said the results of the tests are admissible through grand jury proceedings. Just like breathalyzers have led to a greater percentage of guilty pleas and fewer trials in drunken-driving cases, area officials hope this device will have a similar effect on drug cases, which would move cases along faster as well as reduce police and court costs.
“These results can be used all the way up to trial, and there are a group of district attorneys, myself included, working to have the results admissible in trials as well,” Adair said.