The Oklahoma County Sheriff's Department is out of money to conduct sobriety checkpoints this year, spokesman Mark Myers said.
Normally, deputies perform at least one checkpoint per month, but after conducting nine checkpoints this year, the budgeted funds have run out, Myers said.
The office received about $73,000 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for alcohol enforcement for the year, said Alice Collinsworth, Oklahoma Highway Safety Office spokeswoman. That compares to $110,500 received in 2011.
The sheriff's office has other funds it can choose to direct toward alcohol enforcement programs, Collinsworth said.
A portion of the funds the office received from the traffic administration in 2011 was designated for underage impaired driving enforcement. The sheriff's office still receives some of those funds, but it is no longer allocated by the association so it accounts for some of the difference in the amount between 2011 and 2012, Collinsworth said.
As long as the sheriff uses the allocated money for alcohol enforcement, he can use it how he sees fit, she said.
Despite the lack of funds, the department still hope to conduct additional sobriety checkpoints this year, Myers said. They will look at manning them with volunteer deputies or shifting funds in the budget, he said.
Since 2010, sobriety checkpoints have stopped about 400 to 700 cars a night and netted about five arrests for driving under the influence per checkpoint, statistics show.
The most recent checkpoint was a combined effort of the sheriff's office, Oklahoma City Police Department, Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Bethany Police Department, Logan County sheriff's office and Midwest City Police Department.
From 5 p.m. June 30 to 3 a.m. July 1, 34 people were arrested on DUI complaints at the six sobriety checkpoints across the Oklahoma City metro area.
Are they effective?
The Oklahoma City Police Department doesn't conduct its own DUI checkpoints because it can make more DUI arrests using roving police patrols, spokesman Capt. Dexter Nelson said.
Checkpoints require manpower the department can't spare, Nelson said.
“It is too costly and too labor intensive,” he said.
“Anytime you're invading people's privacy and you're justifying it with a concern for public safety you need to look very carefully at the way that's being implemented,” criminal defense attorney Tommy Adler said. “I think statistics show that the current system is highly ineffective and is not only ineffective in catching people but is an ineffective deterrent to the activity.”
Sheriff John Whetsel disagrees with the notion that the low number of DUI arrests means checkpoints aren't worthwhile.
“I think that's because for the past 15 years we've used checkpoints in Oklahoma County and we continue to get the message out,” Whetsel said.
“The checkpoint emphasizes the point that law enforcement is specifically there looking for drunk drivers and we're catching drunk drivers,” he said.
In 2010 and 2011, DUI arrests made up less than 7 percent of the arrests, warnings and citations given out at sobriety checkpoints. Other violations included reckless driving, no driver's license, expired tags, not wearing seat belts and failure to carry insurance verification.
“If we arrested one drunk driver at a checkpoint that would be plenty for me, because that would be one that's not going to hit somebody dead on and kill somebody,” Whetsel said.
Checkpoints no secret
About 20 to 25 officers man each sobriety checkpoint. They are highly publicized and easy for drivers to identify because of the number of flashing lights from police cars and traffic cones, Whetsel said.
The Oklahoma County sheriff's office uses Twitter and Facebook accounts to inform the public of upcoming sobriety checkpoints in the hopes that being informed will keep people from drinking and driving, Whetsel said.
Oklahoma City resident Jacob Rowe thinks it's important to retweet the sheriff's tweets mentioning upcoming checkpoints.
“That's an activity people shouldn't be engaging in anyway and I think if there's a reminder out there that people are going to be less inclined to do it,” Rowe said.
“Anytime you raise awareness about that I think it's going to have a deterrent effect on crime itself and I think that's going to benefit everybody.”
Sheriff Whetsel said the goal is to take drunken drivers off the roads. So whether drunken drivers are stopped and arrested or people don't drive drunk because of the announcements, the checkpoints are just as effective, Whetsel said.
It is random which cars are pulled over at the checkpoints. Officers pull over five cars at a time, talk to those drivers and scan their licenses and proof of insurance. In the few minutes it takes to check those cars, all other vehicles are waved through the checkpoint without stopping, Whetsel said.
Spreading the word
Oklahoma City residents use Twitter and Facebook to tell their friends where checkpoints are, so they can avoid them if they have been drinking.
On the night of the June 30 sobriety checkpoints, a woman tweeted pictures of the six locations.
Another tweet that included the same photo read, “drive sober and stay away from these places tonight. We don't want you in jail sweetheart!”
“We advertise the fact that we're having checkpoints and the small number of people that might come across a checkpoint and then tweet that or retweet that or put it on Facebook, quite frankly are not impacting whatsoever the value of the checkpoint,” Whetsel said.
These two tweets June 30 were tweeted to the account holders' more than 400 followers. Then the two photos were retweeted by 35 other accounts to more than 50,000 Twitter followers.
“It's something we know with modern technology that people will be able to know and share where checkpoints are,” Myers said.
“Sometimes they will post it on Twitter and Facebook, that's just to be expected.”