Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why we do sobriety checkpoints

Through May of this year, 79 percent of those killed in Kansas City’s fatality traffic accidents have involved people driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We are still awaiting toxicology reports on several of the June deaths to determine whether alcohol or drugs were involved in those. And if trends follow last year’s, July will have a higher fatality crash rate than any other month of the year.

Despite this, we continue to hear complaints that sobriety checkpoints are a waste of department resources. In advance of a holiday weekend that will feature one, I wanted to clarify some points about our sobriety checkpoint program.

First, these checkpoints are funded exclusively by grants, not by any city dollars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) allocates money to each state for traffic safety programs. In Missouri, that money goes to the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Division, which in turn divvies it up to law enforcement agencies around the state specifically for the purpose of conducting DUI checkpoints. KCPD has received grants for 20 DUI checkpoints this year, compared to 14 last year. The rules of these grants stipulate we cannot use this money any other way.

The federal and state governments are so confident in the need for sobriety checkpoints that they not only pay for the overtime of a minimum of 10 officers at each checkpoint, they also provide the police department equipment to use.

Second, checkpoints serve three primary purposes: deterrence, education and arrest. The arrest is really the least of these goals. If people know there is a chance they could be stopped in a sobriety checkpoint, they will be deterred from driving intoxicated. Checkpoints are a very public way to remind drivers to avoid unlawful behavior. Those driving by one person pulled over by an officer don’t know what that person was pulled over for and give little thought to what impact that person’s infraction has on their own actions. But those driving by or through a DUI checkpoint know exactly what’s going on and may be more likely to drive responsibly in the future. This deterrent effect is the primary reason for these checkpoints. Honestly, police would prefer not to arrest anyone for DUI because they want everyone to be driving sober.

So far this year, 79 percent of Kansas City’s traffic deaths have been DUI-related. As a police department, we would be remiss to ignore this problem.

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