State cuts funding for sobriety checkpoints

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

State Rep.: Saturation patrols are more effective

As of July 1, a change to the state budget has eliminated state grant funding for sobriety checkpoints run by law enforcement throughout the state.

State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, chair of the House Budget Committee, said the change is part of the state’s budget bill, which in the past authorized use of up to $20 million in a highway safety line for grants for checkpoints and saturation patrols. A recommendation was made this year that funding for the checkpoints should be eliminated in favor of more saturation patrols.

“The subcommittee gave a report to me, and I looked at the data and support their proposal,” Fitzpatrick said. “Saturation patrols are a more effective method of getting drunk drivers off the roads, and it keeps people from being subject to warrantless searches at checkpoints.”

Fitzpatrick said the Kansas City Police Department is against the change, but other parts of the state, such as St. Louis County, have already moved away from checkpoints and more to saturation patrols, and the Cole County sheriff has said the same.

“We’re not making checkpoints illegal, and if law enforcement wants to do them using their own funds, they are more than welcome,” Fitzpatrick said. “States that don’t allow checkpoints have fewer deaths per capita, which says to me that saturation patrols are a better deterrent.

“People who know about checkpoints can avoid them, and they take a more dangerous route to their destination. They are more likely to drive drunk if they know where a checkpoint is, versus saturation patrols can be anywhere and drunk drivers don’t know where they are.”

Brad DeLay, Lawrence County sheriff, took the opposite approach to enforcement, saying both methods have their benefits, but he prefers the checkpoints over the patrols.

“DWI checkpoints are better to me not necessarily because they bring in more, but because of the higher contact with so many people and other advantages, like the [public relations] effect,” he said. “If people know about a checkpoint, it hits social media and news media and more people are likely to find alternate drivers or not drive at all out of concern of hitting a checkpoint.”

DeLay said saturation patrols do the same thing, but not being concentrated in one area, relies on a deputy coming in contact with a drunk driver more randomly.

“Checkpoints are more publicly visible,” he said. “We did 1-3 per year, and the only reason we didn’t do more was because of the cost and the manpower needed. We are part of the Joplin and Springfield area DWI task forces, so we attended about 10-20 a year between ours and assisting with theirs.”

DeLay said that was also a benefit, as many people use Interstate 44 or Highway 60 when traveling through southwest Missouri.

“Our county is the central hub between Joplin, Springfield and Branson, so there’s a chance some of those drivers could be coming through Lawrence County,” he said.

Gary Davis, Barry County sheriff, said his office has not done a checkpoint since he took the post in January, and deputies previously only did a couple per year.

“At checkpoints, you catch more non-compliant drivers, like expired licenses or no insurance,” he said. “The public would probably be better-served with patrols. Checkpoints send a message, but when we do extra patrols, I don’t think people know about them, and it’s better to use our manpower and money to flood an area and get the people who are obviously impaired.”

Davis brought up certain events as being known for serving alcohol, such as Ernte Fest in Freistatt. He said in the past, Lawrence County deputies would be stationed at the exit and stop potential drunk drivers before they got behind the wheel, a method he saw as another common sense approach.

“Roaming patrols are good, but you can’t have a hot shot out there pulling everyone over just because they left that event,” he said. “Roaming patrols are also not in a fixed location, so we can respond to other calls, and just the visibility of being on the roads makes the area safer.

“We catch drunk drivers all the time, just as often in the afternoon as we do at night.”

DeLay said Ernte Fest has moved now toward private security making sure its attendees stay safe, and he believes that approach is effective.

“We’ve talked about people having to blow before they leave, but even then, that only gives us blood alcohol content, and someone who blows a .02 may be more intoxicated than someone who blows a .08 because they are effected by alcohol differently,” he said.

DeLay said the only thing his office can do now is saturation patrols, and that should mean more deputies on the roads.

“A DWI checkpoint costs us about $5,000 to $7,000 in grant money, and we still have some money, but it will now be used to put more deputies out for longer periods of time,” he said. “We will intensify patrols on certain nights, like St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. We did a saturation patrol on the Fourth and had one alleged DWI. But, we did about 200 stops, so there was still a lot of contact.”

DeLay said looking forward, he hopes checkpoint funding is returned.

“Hopefully, they change the law back because I think it will be a serious detriment and hurt law enforcement.”

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