Mo. Highway Patrol testing device that detects meth

Friday, October 26, 2007

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) -- Some Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers have been testing a device that can detect even microscopic traces of methamphetamine with the simple click of a button.

The scanner, which still is in the developmental stage and hasn't been put on the market, is considered by some to be the future of crime-fighting technology. To others, it represents a potential affront to constitutional rights.

A Tucson, Ariz., firm, CDEX Inc., created the hand-held device and decided to test it in Missouri because of the high number of meth labs in the state.

It has been field-tested in Joplin, Springfield and Willow Springs. After receiving feedback from the patrol, CDEX altered the device and came out with a second version.

"Right now, we are still in the crawling-to-walking stage," said patrol Capt. Tim Basinger. "Forming an opinion now would be like basing it on Windows 1.0. We haven't seen the finished product."

The company plans to sell the device initially for between $2,000 and $5,500, with the price likely to drop eventually. While law enforcement will be the main market at first, CDEX foresees uses in schools, hotels and the real estate and security industries.

At some point, the company plans to expand the technology to detect other illicit drugs or explosives.

There are still several hurdles to cross before the device hits the mainstream, but it is expected to debut on the market before year's end, nonetheless.

Critics include civil libertarians and defense attorneys who question its use in the prosecution of drug cases. While the device has been tested, none of the results have been independently verified.

"Anytime you have testing of a device by someone who stands to make a lot of money off of it, I am always suspect of that," said Stacie Bilyeu, a Springfield defense attorney. "If the testing was done by unbiased, nonpartisan groups, the results would be more reliable."

The scanner also is being tested by the Greenlee County, Ariz., Sheriff's Office. CDEX Chief Executive Officer Malcolm Philips said the device already has been used in two busts there.

There also are questions about whether the scanner would represent an illegal search or whether the discovery of a trace amount is an implication of guilt.

"This scanner only detects chemicals, not criminal conduct," Bilyeu said.

Regardless of the unanswered questions, CDEX says the device is extremely valuable because no evidence is destroyed in an ultraviolet scan, unlike chemical tests that are used to determine whether a substance is meth.

Philips said CDEX expects to introduce the scanner to the market in December and have the finished product available by February.


Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.springfieldnews-leader.com

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