You know spring is upon us when local police departments start to set up drunk driving checklanes (aka roadblocks) around the Kansas City metropolitan area. The Kansas City, Missouri Police Department has announced that there will be such a DUI checklane in midtown KCMO on Friday, February 17, 2006, between 11:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. These DUI checklanes are popular with law enforcement in Kansas and Missouri. I have never really understood why. The police force will have dozens of officers on duty, many getting paid overtime, stopping hundreds if not thousands of cars and backing up traffic for blocks. Usually, there are only a handful of arrests. Recent DUI checklanes in Johnson County, Kansas that I am aware of have yielded about a 1 or 2% arrest rate, and those were the good ones. Compare those statistics with the statistics from MADD that say something like 50% of the vehicles on the road after midnight are driven by persons who are under the influence of alcohol. I don’t think so. Read the Metro Section of the KC Star on Saturday, February 18, and do the numbers. That won’t add up.
Checklanes are also problematic because there is no evidence that the driver was having any difficulty operating their car, since they were not stopped for any traffic violations. This means the case will be harder for the prosecutor to prove in court. Also, checklanes are a constitutionally thorny subject since, in the “Land of Freedom”, we don’t expect to be randomly stopped by the police when we have done nothing wrong. Checklanes almost always draw ltiigation concerning whether they were set up in a constitutionally acceptable manner. This requires more time and money of our courts.
If the police force took the same number of officers theysend to the DUI checklane (probably 30 to 40) and sent them out on a drunk driving “saturation patrol” in Kansas or Missouri, they could probably each make at least one, if not more, arrests each for DUI just by enforcing the traffic laws between 11:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. They would certainly arrest more intoxicated drivers than they will ever find by doing a checklane. This would seem to increase public safety and remove more allegedly drunk drivers from the road.
So why do the police undertake the massive DUI roadblocks that jam up traffic, tie up courts, cost a lot of money, and have low yields for arrests? Law enforcement officers will say that it is an important part of educating the public and deterring potential drunk drivers. However, the 98% who are sober going through the checklane obviously don’t need educating or deterring. The popularity of the DUI checklane may be because the agencies are given large federal grants to conduct the checklanes. There is a lot of money given away by the government for these things and everyone likes money.
I don’t really know why DUI checklanes have remained popular with the police despite the growing evidence that they are not very effective. But, they won’t go away anytime soon. The almost legendary St. Patrick’s Day checklane in midtown KCMO will be set up next month right next to the place where everyone is encouraged to come and drink themselves silly. At least the odds of catching drunk drivers in a checklane go up in that situation to the point where it can almost be justified when weighed against the time, money and inconvenience that will also be required of the law-abiding tax payers.