It’s that time of year again, with the busy holiday season and drivers heading out on the roads police departments across the state and the country are preparing to launch an aggressive drunk driving enforcement campaign. One component of many of these campaigns includes creating sobriety or DWI checkpoints where officers stop all cars in an area and watch for signs that drivers may be impaired.
While these police checkpoints have gone on for decades, their usefulness is seldom questioned. However, some privacy and criminal defense advocates say that it may be time to seriously consider whether the checkpoints are worth keeping around.
One problem with the sobriety checkpoints is that they are staggeringly expensive to operate. Numbers from California reveal that the state’s DUI checkpoints cost around $12 million each and every year. Even outside of California the typical checkpoint costs police departments, and thus tax payers, between $8,000 and $10,000. The vast majority of checkpoints are staffed by police officers who are working overtime, something that leads to further inflated costs.
So checkpoints are expensive, but are they effective? Not according to some. An investigation conducted by an Arizona newspaper into that state’s checkpoints found that they rarely resulted in the conviction of anyone. Between 2005 and 2007, officers in Arizona stopped 46,000 drivers as part of its checkpoint program. Of these tens of thousands of stops only 75 cases resulted in convictions. The paper concluded that the program was a random and almost entirely inefficient waste of taxpayer dollars. Simply paying for patrols to watch for drunk driving behavior would be a far more fruitful use of money.
Another study dealing with the effectiveness of checkpoints came out of Maryland which concluded that there was no evidence that the campaign, including the sobriety checkpoints and associated media promotion, had any impact on public perception or driver behavior. There was also no evidence that the sobriety checkpoints reduced alcohol-related crashes or injuries. Even the FBI has found that conducting saturation patrols, where large numbers of officers are put out to patrol the roads are more effective than sobriety checkpoints.
The debate about the usefulness of checkpoints is an important one given that legislators in Washington State are in the midst of debating whether to allow such checkpoints in the future. Until now, Washington was been one of the 12 states where police checkpoints are not allowed due to provisions of the state constitution. Some have pushed for changes to allow for the checkpoints, claiming that law enforcement officials should be given the tool to better enforce public safety.
Thankfully privacy advocates, including the ACLU, have fought the measure, arguing that allowing such checkpoints violates the state’s constitution with regard to privacy rights. These groups point out that if a driver is out and about and has not done anything wrong, there is no reason for police officers to stop them. All such DUI traffic stops should be based on individualized reasonable suspicion that the driver has done something wrong rather than simply allowing baseless fishing expeditions.
Source: “DUI Checkpoints: Yay or Nay?,” by Rachel Alexander, published at ChristianPost.com.