Oklahoma County sheriff's office is out of money to conduct sobriety checkpoints for the year

The Oklahoma County sheriff's office usually conducts at least one sobriety checkpoint per month throughout the year. About five driving under the influence arrests are made per checkpoint, statistics show.
BY CARMEN FORMAN cforman@opubco.com Modified: July 21, 2012 at 12:23 am •  Published: July 23, 2012
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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.

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