JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – The Johnson City Police Department arrested more people for driving under the influence and stopped fewer cars in the process by using grant-funded saturation patrols instead of DUI checkpoints last year, according to the agency’s data.
Based on the number of cars stopped, police were 14 times more likely to arrest someone for DUI while patrolling than while standing still at sobriety checkpoints, according to our analysis of JCPD records.
According to state and local DUI checkpoint records, officers arrested seven people at the 10 area checkpoints last year. Prosecutors dismissed one of those cases. Police stopped more than 3,300 cars in all, according to public records.
JCPD’s saturation patrol statistics show officers made 19 DUI arrests out of 670 traffic stops. In addition, they arrested and cited more people for non-DUI crimes. Unlike checkpoints, officers need reasonable suspicion to pull over someone on the road.
“What we primarily focus on is DUI saturation patrols,” Lt. Scotty Carrier said. “Whereas at a roadblock you’re standing still while they come through, you actually witness driving behavior whenever you’re on a saturation patrol.”
Lt. Carrier says JCPD will still help Tennessee Highway Patrol with DUI checkpoints when asked, supporting those efforts as another intervention of drunk driving enforcement, but the priority is saturation patrols. JCPD spent many more hours and many more nights working saturation patrols, and as a result, made more non-DUI arrests and wrote more non-DUI citations too.
“One advantage you get out of that is you can go all over the city,” Lt. Carrier said.
“Do you personally feel one is more effective than the other?” we asked.
“Well, they both serve a purpose,” he responded. “I know from the police department’s perspective, we primarily rely on the saturation patrols, but certainly with DUI roadblocks there are DUI arrests that come from those.”
Kingsport Police Department Public Information Officer Tom Patton says although important, arrests aren’t the only goal of DUI checkpoints. He says deterrence and education are equally important.
“I believe it was a very responsible use of public tax dollars,” he said of the checkpoints. “We want the public to be aware of the dangers that DUI poses and the fact that we are taking steps as best we can to prevent those.”
Beyond sobriety checkpoints, Kingsport spends even more time yearly using grant dollars for saturation patrols too, Patton said. In the first quarter of 2016 alone, Patton says KPD held 18 saturation patrols compared to one checkpoint.
Patton says each kind of enforcement has its purpose, adding the department uses “every tool in our toolbox to combat DUI.”
“We want the people who might be committing these offenses to know that we are out there,” Patton said. “We do take it seriously and we will apprehend people and we will prosecute people if we catch them.”
Patton says KPD does not have any planned grant-funded DUI checkpoints this year, but says the agency could create one if an increase in crashes at a location shows a need. He says next year, KPD plans on holding both DUI and seat belt/child passenger safety grant-funded checkpoints.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Knoxville Police Department says the agency doesn’t hold DUI checkpoints anymore.
“They are very manpower intensive,” Public Information Officer Darrell DeBusk said. “We have much better success with our officers doing active patrols and targeted enforcement.”
Back in Johnson City, a repeat drunk driver killed business owner David Hudson a decade ago. His parents, Dr. Larry and Sandy Hudson, became activists for DUI reform as a result. They now live in Charleston. The Hudsons say they support every effort police use.
“Any measure…to prevent or deter deaths is money well spent,” Dr. Hudson said. “Even if you save one life, the benefit to the community is tremendous. If it could save one life, that’s unmeasurable. The toll is quite high and the suffering and the loss of productivity in these young lives and people’s lives that die cannot be measured.”
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