Lindsay Lohan: If she parties, Littleton's Alcohol Monitoring Systems will know it first

Lindsay Lohan's career trajectory has taken her from adorable scamp (in The Parent Trap) to a human train wreck who earlier this week was ordered to wear an alcohol-monitoring anklet to avoid going to jail.

As such, she'll be closely tracked by Littleton's Alcohol Monitoring Systems -- and she's not the only one. According to AMS spokeswoman Kathleen Brown, Lohan is one of about 11,000 people whose partying impulses are being observed today alone. And while the actress reportedly tried to block her anklet's sensors back in 2007, the last time she had to wear one, she'll have a helluva time doing so successfully.

"I'm not saying its failure-proof," she allows regarding the system, dubbed SCRAMx. "But we test everything very carefully and have from the beginning. We have teams of people constantly making sure it works, and works properly."

AMS began beta-testing the device in Michigan in late 2003, with a formal launch in 2004. Since then, it's been rapidly adapted by law enforcement and the court system. The anklets are currently being used in 48 states (the exceptions are Hawaii and Massachusetts), with approximately 135,000 mostly unwilling customers served to date.

Brown describes the anklet as "very similar to having a Breathalyzer for your ankle. Instead of a person blowing into it, a little pump sucks in perspiration we all have on our skin and measures that sample to see if there's alcohol consumption. It does that every thirty minutes. Then, usually once a day, but sometimes as often as six times a day, the bracelet and its base station basically look at each other and send all the data to us in Littleton. That's where our secure, web-based server houses the data and generates any reports."

What's to stop an anklet-wearer -- like, say, Lohan -- from putting something between the monitor and the skin? Plenty, Brown says.

In addition to the half-hourly alcohol monitoring, "a number of other tests take place at the same time," she notes, "and one of them is an infra-red test. A little IR beam shoots onto your skin and measures the reflective quality of what comes back. It generates a baseline that's different for everybody, and if anything changes with that reflective quality, it alerts us to the possibility that there's an obstruction, which is probably the first thing someone will do. For the most part, we let the courts deal with that as they would if someone misses a urine test. But the vast majority of the time, the monitor registers the drinking anyhow."

If so, what about the case of Said Ali Mohamud, who was arrested near Boulder for driving drunk a few months back even though he wore an alcohol monitoring anklet? He reportedly put some plastic between the sensor and his leg to keep it from alerting AMS to his boozing.

According to Brown, Mohamud wasn't as clever as was initially thought. "His bracelet hadn't been turned on yet," she says. "Installers were required to put the bracelet on him before he walked out of jail, but at the time, Boulder was doing a two-step install. A person would get the bracelet on and then have to go to a separate location to finish the install -- and he didn't do the last part of that." It's Brown's understanding that Boulder changed its policy as a result of the Mohamud matter and now does the anklet install and activation at the same time.

Of course, the national media has no interest in Mohamud. All reporters care about is Lohan, and Brown's been getting inquiries since shortly after her Monday sentencing -- more than 400 so far. And while she concedes that "there's no such thing as bad publicity," she says "the concern we have whenever there's a celebrity related to our product is that it takes away from the fact that these devices are used for people with very serious issues: drunk driving, domestic abuse."

After citing statistics compiled by the National Partnership on Alcohol Misuse and Crime, she suggests that the focus on Lohan has the potential of "taking away from the seriousness of what's going on."

On the other hand, the PR could assist AMS if the company decides to move beyond the corrections field to peddle the doodad more widely. "We're not focusing on the commercial market right now," Brown says, but she concedes that the anklet could have an appeal for large companies with significant numbers of employees participating in alcohol programs and perhaps even private individuals -- like perhaps a zealous parent wanting to make sure problem teens are staying sober.

Still, she points out that "this is a very complex system, and we have to meet a high standard for courts to accept the technology. We go through an arduous check-and-balance process for every report, because a violation can have serious consequences. People can go back to jail or lose their job -- serious stuff. So we have a whole team of data analysts who look at this, and then local jurisdictions can move forward with the paperwork and decide how they want to deal with the clients."

Because of privacy issues, Brown declines to identify any other famous folks who may be wearing AMS's product. But she says Lohan will probably like the new anklet more than the 2007 model.

"Back then, it was huge," she says. "Now it's one-sided, very small -- and in March, we launched a version that includes curfew monitoring, for people under house arrest. Back then, people had to wear two sensors, but now ours will do both."

It's what all the fashionable people with liquor problems are wearing these days...

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts