Are DUI checkpoints worth the time and money? Our recent front page story asked that question, and it is a fair one.
Lodi police have been running the checkpoints through a grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety. Lodi gets $102,000 to operate the checkpoints and so-called saturation patrols.
The goal is worthy: Get drunken drivers off the streets of Lodi.
The reality, though, has raised several issues, including:
- The checkpoints are expensive, drawing 14 officers, all on overtime, for an estimated cost of $4,400 per checkpoint.
- The results are rather unimpressive. The checkpoints have produced an average of 2.8 DUI arrests each — about $1,500 per arrest. (That may be in part because many local bar owners learn quickly of the checkpoints and alert their customers.)
- In contrast, the checkpoints have caused many cars to be towed and impounded because their drivers are unlicensed. The average has been 20 cars per checkpoint. Most of these drivers aren't inebriated, just unlucky. They have to cough up big bucks — one local car owner paid $1,600 — to get their vehicle back. And they have to wait 30 days for that privilege. No doubt some have lost not just a car, but a job. A young car owner told reporter Fernando Gallo that she and her boyfriend had to walk home because the police denied her use of a cell phone to call for a ride after her Honda was towed away. That doesn't strike us as the most courteous reaction.
- So-called saturation patrols are more efficient at catching DUI drivers than checkpoints, but Lodi police have to run the checkpoints as part of the deal with the state safety office.
Is this a well-intended program that's too expensive and intrusive? Are taxpayers getting their money's worth with this?
Are the checkpoints a sledgehammer slaying flies?
We've learned since our story appeared that Lodi police do not, in fact, have to request driver's licenses of those who go through the checkpoints. Maybe changing that policy is worth exploring. After all, the aim is to arrest intoxicated motorists, not deprive Lodians of their cars, right? The impoundments seem like a sort of collateral damage.
Beyond that, perhaps the traffic safety office should look at shifting resources toward the saturation patrols that Lodi police say are more effective.
Granted, driving without a license isn't to be condoned.
And getting drunken drivers off the streets of Lodi is a worthy goal.
But so is putting taxpayer dollars to the very best use.
— The Lodi News-Sentinel