The city's alcohol breath test program has been shut down since February 2010, when the police department discovered the machines were poorly calibrated. Earlier this year, Nathan dropped dozens of drunken-driving cases because of problems that arose from the District's broken program. Hundreds of other cases have been called into question, and the city is being sued for drunken-driving convictions based on the faulty evidence.
But Nathan said his office, the police department and the medical examiner now have a plan in place to bring the breath test program back. The city has applied for a $100,000 federal grant to hire a technician in the medical examiner's office to oversee the program. The three agencies have also agreed on a policy that includes audits and other checks on the breath tests.
"We should have it running within a few months," Nathan told The Examiner. All that's left, he said, is to get the grant and hire someone for the job. "We wanted to have the policies in place before a roundtable before [the D.C. Council] in early June," Nathan said. He added, "we continue to prosecute [drunken-driving] cases vigorously using urine tests."
At-large Councilman Phil Mendelson, who heads the public safety committee, will run the June 1 hearing. He said he's frustrated with how long it has taken to get the program running again.
"I need to keep the pressure on them," Mendelson said. "It's clear that after 15 months they need pressure to get this done."
Asked about the program Thursday morning on WTOP, Police Chief Cathy Lanier sounded less committed to the time frame Nathan described to The Examiner.
"We should have it up and running in the next couple of months, but I'm not going to force it because I want it to work," Lanier said. "Use of these instruments has to be very carefully regulated and there has to be checks and balances."
Police union chief Kris Baumann said the problems extend beyond the dysfunctional breath test program.
"At this point no one trusts the city to do this right," Baumann said. "The defense attorneys and the judges will continue to question our enforcement of [drunken-driving laws] regardless."