Seven Arrested At Sobriety Checkpoint

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Marcia Daniels lost her brother over Memorial Day weekend in 1999.

He was killed by a drunken driver.

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Payson Police Officer Chad DeSchaff demonstrates a Breathalyzer test, for reading blood alcohol content, on Roundup intern Ryan Kost.

This past weekend, the Payson Police Department and the Department of Public Safety implemented a checkpoint and saturation patrols to prevent the tragedy Daniels experienced six years ago.

"There's a lot of talk about how (drinking and driving) is bad, but until you go through (losing a loved one) people don't realize the impact and the trauma that the family goes through," said Daniels.

The PPD's saturation patrol and DPS's sobriety checkpoint turned in mixed results.

This past weekend the PPD conducted its first-ever saturation patrol -- additional officers on duty to watch for drunken drivers -- paid for by an $8,000 abatement grant from Arizona's Oversight Council on Driving or Operating Under the Influence mandated in the revised statutes.

The saturation patrol yielded no arrests.

The sobriety checkpoint -- where vehicles are stopped to check for intoxicated drivers -- resulted in seven arrests. It was funded by a $46,000 grant from the same source. The grants augment additional staff and overtime pay to man 15 checkpoints and/or saturation patrols per agency between now and July 2006.

PPD and DPS have conducted similar types of DUI enforcement in the past, but DPS Sgt. Rich Alvarez said the number of arrests from the checkpoint was "unusually high."

"Just like some days we have a lot more wrecks than others; you just don't know," Alvarez said.

Commander Don Engler said he was surprised at the PPD's lack of arrests -- normally they make between one and five during a saturation patrol.

"Even if we aren't making a large number of arrests, us being out there -- it's an educational thing," Engler said.

Police officers hope that drivers will be mindful of the additional staff by finding alternative ways to get around if they're drinking, Engler said.

The three-officer saturation patrol Friday night stopped 10 vehicles. The checkpoint, which stopped traffic in both directions on Highway 260 near Plant Fair Nursery Saturday night, made contact with 1,032 vehicles.

Invasion of privacy?

Sobriety checkpoints and constitutional rights have always had a contentious relationship.

In 1990 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that checkpoints were constitutional. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, public opinion polls show 70 to 80 percent of those surveyed support more checkpoints to combat drunken driving, but not everyone is comfortable with the idea of being stopped without reasonable cause.

Patricia Sheehan, who experienced the checkpoint this weekend, said she found the experience intimidating.

Although local radio stations are required by law to broadcast checkpoint notices, Sheehan had not heard it.

"I'm of two minds because I recognize that they need to be looking for people who are under the influence," Sheehan said, but she believes other alternatives are available to keep drunken drivers off the road.

"I would like to see more police out there looking for (drunken drivers) than I would these checkpoints," Sheehan said.

Engler said the department won't use its grant money for checkpoints, just saturation patrols, however, DPS plans to invest in both DUI deterrents.

Alvarez said checkpoints are no more effective than saturation patrols, but DPS has chosen to utilize them because of the certainty they provide and "because we can."

"At least we know anybody coming out of (a checkpoint) is not impaired," he said.

Daniels said she thinks sobriety checkpoints are more effective than saturation patrols.

"If you're not drinking you shouldn't be upset if you're stopped," Daniels said. "If (checkpoints) can get even one person (who's) drunk off the road to save people from going through the hell you have to go through if they kill somebody (it's worth it)."

Drunken driving in Payson

The Payson Police Department pursued the Oversight Council on Driving or Operating Under the Influence grant because of an increase in DUI arrests in Payson and around the state, Engler said.

In 2003 DUI arrests in Payson increased 20 percent over the previous year, to 219 from 181.

DUI arrests could go up again this year. Since June 30 Payson police have made 139 DUI arrests, about 30 more than half of the 217 DUI arrests made last year.

Dedicating extra staff to apprehend drunken drivers means better enforcement and less strain on officers normally assigned to patrolling and responding to calls, Engler said. Without the additional officers, the department has fewer resources to undertake "preventative patrol," he said.

"We've always been a community that's had to stay after our DUI enforcement," said Engler. "I think (it's) because we are a hub (for traffic and out of town visitors)."

If you suspect someone is driving under the influence, call 911. Give the dispatcher a license plate number, a description of the car, the driver's appearance and the driver's behavior, and include a call-back number.

For more information on drunken driving, contact Mothers Against Drunk Driving at (800) GET-MADD or visit their website at www.madd.org.

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