Officers disciplined for carrying out breath test procedure out of uniform

Published Date: 04.03.2014

Two police officers who carried out a breath test on a driver have been disciplined by the PSNI because they were not wearing police uniform at the time.

The case emerged following a complaint to the Police Ombudsman by a member of the public about the actions of the police after they suspected him of driving under the influence of alcohol.

The man stated that the officers should have stopped his vehicle much earlier than they did, rather than waiting until he arrived at his place of work where they questioned him and carried out the breath test.

In order to independently examine the allegation investigators from the Ombudsman’s office gathered all relevant police documentation and interviewed the police officers involved.

It was discovered that the officers were off duty when they noticed a vehicle in front of them being driven erratically. They radioed through to the police control room and requested the assistance of a marked police vehicle.

They continued to follow the car until a short distance later when it stopped in a car park. By the time the marked police car arrived, the off-duty officers had begun speaking to the driver.

In their interviews with the Ombudsman investigator, these officers stated that while they were conscious they were not in uniform, they breathalysed the driver because they wanted to save him the embarrassment of uniformed officers carrying out the procedure outside his place of work.

After reviewing all the evidence the Ombudsman decided that, up until the point where they carried out the breath test, the officers had behaved quite correctly. While driving an unmarked car they were right not to stop the driver, and they followed the correct procedure by asking for assistance from the police control room. The drivers’ complaint was therefore not upheld.

However, by doing the breath test when not in uniform the officers acted contrary to the law. The Road Traffic Order (NI) 1995 states that officers requesting and administering the breath test procedure must be in uniform.

Even though the officers acted in what they thought were the interests of the driver, and even though the driver would have been in no doubt that police officers were testing him, the officers should nevertheless have passed the procedure over to the uniformed officers. By doing it themselves the officers rendered the breath test unlawful.

The PSNI therefore took disciplinary action against the officers on the recommendation of the Ombudsman.

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