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Every weekend, law enforcement agencies throughout the Los Angeles area conduct DUI checkpoints that allow officers to stop and briefly investigate all motorists passing through the checkpoint in order to ensure compliance with the DUI laws. Since the California Supreme Court authorized the use of DUI checkpoints in the Ingersoll v. Palmer case, law enforcement agencies have increased the number and frequency of checkpoint operations conducted. However, when the final numbers are tallied many people question the effectiveness of these checkpoints.
DUI checkpoints are an exception to the general requirement that law enforcement officers must have reasonable or probable cause that a driver is violating the law before they can pull him over. As long as DUI checkpoints are conducted in a neutral and unbiased fashion, these operations will be considered to be in compliance with the law. Generally, a checkpoint is set up at an intersection that has had a demonstrable history of past DUI incidents. Officers at the checkpoint are allowed to briefly stop and speak with all motorists driving through the checkpoint. If the driver is suspected of being under the influence, the officer can direct the driver to a separate area where a more thorough DUI investigation will take place. The driver may ultimately be arrested for and charged with a DUI offense.
Following a DUI checkpoint operation, the agency will often publish statistics pertaining to the operation. Sometimes the numbers generated can be surprising. A report generated following a recent checkpoint operation conducted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on a Friday night between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. shows that approximately 1,963 vehicles travelled through the checkpoint. Of these vehicles, 1,151 drivers were checked. Officers at a checkpoint typically cannot check every vehicle passing through the location. A neutral method for checking vehicles randomly (i.e. every third vehicle or every other vehicle) must be employed for the checkpoint to be in compliance with the law.
Of the drivers checked at the checkpoint, three were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and three were arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana. One person was arrested for driving under the combined influence of alcohol and marijuana. This means that the checkpoint operation involving nearly 2,000 vehicles only netted seven DUI arrests.
Many people criticize DUI checkpoints because of this low yield. These operations are often seen as a very intrusive policing effort that ultimately produces few arrests. In addition, these checkpoints tend to cause major traffic jams as traffic is slowed and narrowed into one lane. These operations require a major expenditure of law enforcement resources and many people question the value of these operations.
Proponents of DUI checkpoints often respond that even if checkpoints do not produce large numbers of arrests, the simple fact that checkpoints exists creates a deterrent factor that keeps drunk drivers off the road. They note that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that checkpoints provide the most effective results of any DUI enforcement strategy and are also cost effective. Law enforcement agencies continue to conduct DUI checkpoint operations and everyone one the road should be aware of their presence.