OUR VIEW: Cops detain 1,407 innocent drivers (poll)

September 6, 2011
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Colorado Springs police detained 1,420 drivers last Saturday in yet another ineffective effort to catch drunken drivers. As a result of detaining thousands of drivers and countless passengers, police cited eight — a whopping .56 percent — on suspicion they had driven under the influence. Meanwhile, cops working the checkpoints were not on the roads providing legitimate public safety.

This part is weird: Five others were cited for open containers. Imagine driving through a swarm of police, who are stopping vehicles and looking into them, with an open beer.

Drunk drivers kill. Those who drink, even a little, have no business getting behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle for the rest of the day. Just don’t do it for any reason.

Society needs to eradicate drunken driving, but sobriety checkpoints are not the answer. They violate the Fourth Amendment, which forbids unlawful searches and seizures. They are permissible under the Supreme Court’s 1990 ruling in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, a case in which the majority decided to allow an erosion of liberty to facilitate a compelling interest in reducing fatalities. Checkpoints would be easier to accept if they actually improved public safety.

“The net effect of sobriety checkpoints on traffic safety is infinitesimal and possibly negative,” wrote Justices Paul Stevens, William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall in their Michigan v. Sitz dissent.

Most public safety experts acknowledge that traditional policing, in which officers look for drunken drivers while patrolling, is more effective. Law enforcement brass like checkpoints because they create overtime pay. An investigation by the University California found that checkpoints generate $30 million in annual overtime pay in California alone. Checkpoints, which are funded with transportation grants, are public relations stunts.

“Most drivers will probably never encounter a sobriety checkpoint, but will only learn of it through media reports or by word of mouth. These two valuable forms of public communication will greatly enhance any such program and should be employed consistently,” states the Colorado Department of Transportation’s checkpoint guidelines.

(Are sobriety checkpoints a good use of time and money? Vote in poll to the right. Must vote to see results. Thanks!)

The promotion of checkpoints causes seriously drunk drivers to avoid them. The guidelines require that police post advance notice for drivers approaching checkpoints.

“A motorist who wishes to avoid the checkpoint by legally turning before entering the checkpoint area should be allowed to do so unless a traffic violation(s) is observed or probable cause exists to take other action. The act of avoiding a sobriety checkpoint does not constitute grounds for a stop,” the state guidelines explain.

Our police are supposed to protect and serve the public, not detain individuals to generate publicity and overtime pay. Please take a pass on future checkpoint grants in Colorado Springs and use traditional methods to catch drunk drivers.

Friend editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen on Facebook, follow him on Twitter

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