Whoever came up with the term “Vampire Cop” is a genius! No, I don’t mean the wonderfully campy film of the same name…
…or the slightly more popular Hot Topic advertisement series from Canada, Forever Knight.
Well, you get it from the title monologue: “He was brought across in 1228; preyed on humans for their blood. Now he wants to be mortal again to repay society for his sins, to emerge from his world of darkness, from his endless forever night.” The writers in these pieces of pop culture focused on the erotics of the vampire–sometimes queer, but, probably in reaction to Rice’s super-successful queer vampires mind-numblingy cis–and on questions of personal and professional ethics, occasionally touching on questions regarding exploitation, freedom, and violence, warranted and unwarranted. Legal dramas they are not, which is not surprising. Even though I am sure an 800 year-old creature would make a formidable advocate, vampires are not known for filing amicus briefs.
I will get back to this kind of vampire soap in the end. For now, though, I mean the kind of “vampire cop” that crept up around the late 2000s, a phrase that describes a novel practice: specially trained police officers who execute non-consensual blood draws from suspects who may have been driving while intoxicated (DWI). Some legal problems arose from the question of what constituted consent to have blood drawn, whether driving on streets implied consent, and if drawing blood from a person violated their Fourth Amendment.
The issue had long been a matter of legal debate when Arizona created its Officer Phlebotomy Program in 1995. Specially trained officers were now able to get a tele-fax search warrant and draw the blood sample on the spot. Arizona touts its drop in rates of persons who refuse to give a blood sample as an outcome of the program. While the person would previously have been taken to a medical facility to draw the blood sample, the officers seem to be doing a better job at extracting the sample from drivers–pun intended.
These “vampire cops,” however, have raised suspicion across the political spectrum, from Alex Jones-type, right-wing anti-government activists to anti-police activists on the left. A seemingly no longer updated blog offers a series of items from news and the internet that all oppose the introduction of vampiric forensic practices in Austin, Texas.
Officers have many reasons for trying to draw blood themselves, not the least because relying on doctors and nurses has led to a number of conflicts between health care professionals, who see drawing blood as a medical intervention that needs a medical justification, and officers, who see it as a necessary step to retrieve the blood alcohol content as evidence–evidence that is deteriorating through the body’s ability to break down alcohol. As Jacob M. Appel writes,
The act of inflicting unwanted medical care on a competent adult—a violent intrusion that contrasts strikingly with the general norms of the healing trades—is likely to prove disturbing and objectionable to many professional caregivers.194 At a minimum, providers and their employers should educate themselves on their specific duties and should reach out to local law enforcement authorities to clarify in advance potential matters of disagreement. Advance planning may not entirely eliminate the possibility of conflict, but such a negotiated approach has at least the potential to mitigate friction between providers and public authorities. After all, the ethical and legal issues surrounding forcible blood draws by physicians and hospital employees are far too important to be resolved ad hoc in emergency rooms as difficult cases arise.
How different these perspectives are once again became clear on July 26, 2017, when a Utah nurse found herself on the violent end of the law after she refused to draw blood from an unconscious man. In the video, Nurse Wubbel clearly explains her hospital’s policy regarding blood samples, which require either a warrant, patient consent, or that the patient be under arrest. Since none of these cases applied, she was caught in a conflict, which the officer decided to resolve by way of force.
Setting aside whether the violent intervention was warranted in this case, the relation between police as part of the executive that can opt for physical force and the medical procedure of drawing blood leads to a long-standing and interesting conflict. Can police officers force healers to conduct an unnecessary medical procedure? Who is liable for damages should something go wrong? Can officers interrupt hospital procedure and ignore protocol as in the case of Nurse Wubbel?
The US Supreme Court hasn’t addressed these questions, but it has revisited the relation between the state’s power to police DWI cases and the use of blood samples several times. Most famously, the majority decided in Missouri v. McNeely (11-1425) that a warrant is basically a good idea, though certain individual circumstances might call for a blood test without a warrant. In the words of SCOTUSblog writer Lyle Denniston:
every case will be judged on its own facts, so the officer can never know whether failure to get a warrant will scuttle a drunk-driving case altogether.
None of the Court’s four opinions — a majority, two separate opinions supporting the result, and one dissenting opinion — said that officers investigating drunk-driving cases must always get a warrant. But the majority did say that the Constitution does not allow police to get a blood sample without ever having to get a warrant, in any case (as the dissenting opinion suggested). So that sets up the case-by-case approach, suggesting that getting a warrant very likely would remove the doubt.
“require piercing the skin” and extract a part of the subject’s body, Skinner, supra, at 625, and thus are significantly more intrusive than blowing into a tube. A blood test also gives law enforcement a sample that can be preserved and from which it is possible to extract information beyond a simple BAC reading. That prospect could cause anxiety for the person tested.
The intrusion distinction makes sense to me (I suppose whether our breath is part of our bodies and persons or not is a philosophical question worth pondering.) Discussing the intimate familiarity of police officers with many things blood and the imaginary dimension real threats can assume, I wanted to stress that the bodily connection of tissues between enforcer and forced is not a one-way street, but an artery of the social body itself, through which circulate images, anxieties, and immune reactions that render citizens hostile, police obtuse, and the public at risk. I find that much the same applies in the case of non-consensual blood tests.
What is terrifying about the treatment of Nurse Wubbel is not just its hostility, lack of reason, and arbitrary nature–whoever is surprised by the possibility of that happening in any police encounter must have lived under a rock for the past four years. What is truly disturbing for me is, forgive the jargon, the excess of signification at work in the blood test. Blood is simply always excessive, always more than you intend it to be. There is no court that can make blood into a piece of evidence in the eyes of a culture inundated with vampire stories. While SCOTUS is right to comment on the intrusiveness of the blood sample, the real threat lies in the second reason mentioned, “A blood test also gives law enforcement a sample that can be preserved and from which it is possible to extract information beyond a simple BAC reading. That prospect could cause anxiety for the person tested.”
The blood sample is not just a breath (something we waste in every idiotic conference call, during every petty argument over who was supposed to take out what and when, or why it is really inconvenient to find an unflushed toilet in your own home). We jealously guard our blood, rightfully or not, and cling to our essence, our נֶפֶשׁ. Of course we send our DNA across the world to fit ourselves into narratives of belonging and ancestry, to water our imagined family trees with the MiracleGro of DNA swabs. But would we readily extract blood and send around vials, even if we could? Would we freely share our most secret essence with just anybody, let alone an over-worked, under-trained officer who seems to have it in for us? Should we have to? And if we enter the hospital doors or the clinic, the place of healing and refuge (and medial billing), should we not be able to expect that a Nurse Wubbel will respect the old oaths of healers and our bodily integrity, fiction though it may be?
“Vampire cops” seek the blood of the unwilling, the unsuspecting, and those guilty of transgressions. Much of the same goes for the vampire of fiction, but the vampire desires the essence that is life, not just a scrap of evidence to be used in court. Of course SCOTUS never had the pleasure of having to decide Knight v. United States in which a Canadian vampire cop is accused of violating the Fourth. But if you think about the way Nick Night talks about blood, I am not sure that a real vampire cop would be quite so cavalier and bureaucratic about the whole thing:
You have to understand that every drop of blood has your whole life in it. It’s just not our food. It’s the way we feel life. Imagine if you could know someone’s soul just by sharing blood. Everything you know, everything you are, transformed into touch and taste. Imagine the temptation to take just one sip. One sip and then another and another, to take them inside you and know every secret, to let them know yours, to be them. That’s why it’s such a tough habit to break. –Detective Nick Knight.
In some ways I think we’d be better off with vampire cops than “vampire cops.”
*In both cases Justice Thomas held that no warrant is necessary for blood drawing because there is exigency. I’ll leave comment on that to more qualified voices.