Patrol officers with Bridgewater's municipal police force now are well versed in the latest portable technology designed to nab suspected cannabis-impaired drivers, having recently received training in the operation of the SoToxa device.
One of a couple of accepted brands for police use in Canada, the SoToxa analyzer tests for elevated levels of THC, the main psychoactive chemical found in cannabis.
The Bridgewater Police Service bought one of the units, which are manufactured by Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories. This means it no longer needs to depend on another agency to carry out the oral swab, and feed the sample into the mobile device to secure a pass-or-fail reading.
The cost of the SoToxa is in the $9,000-range, which includes a case, printer and other accessories. A box of 25 test cartridges runs at about $900.
Long-time town police officer Det./Cst. Derek Childs knows the SoToxa well, having secured credentials to teach others. He trained his Bridgewater colleagues, and also officers with the municipal police service in Kentville. Childs also has taught standard field sobriety testing and drug recognition evaluation courses.
The SoToxa allows local police to conduct drug screening without delay and "not have to have somebody else come do the test,;[they're] already trained in it," Childs, a nine-year veteran of the department, explained to LighthouseNOW in a recent phone interview.
"We are probably the first [police] service in Nova Scotia that has all members [SoToxa] trained," he added.
The RCMP commonly use the Draeger saliva testing machine. The Draeger tests for THC and cocaine. The SoToxa is just for cannabis but will at some point be equipped to analyze the harder drug, Childs indicated.
Standard field sobriety tests, which are physical roadside examinations, take into account alcohol and all drugs. A drug recognition evaluation and further demands, such as for a blood sample, can follow. Breathalysers are key in most alcohol impairment cases.
The Draeger is similar in price to the SoToxa but is larger in stature. The Draeger is comparable to a coffee pod appliance, rather than SoToxa's hand-held debit/credit machine size measurements.
"This one is a little more user-friendly for the officers," Childs explained. "It's quite a bit smaller, it might [weigh] two pounds."
The department's first device to detect cannabis-impaired operators is another tool to help officers move "from suspicion there's drug in the body, to belief," said Childs.