FARGO — The North Dakota Legislature has taken a step toward banning DUI checkpoints — an enforcement method that some view as ineffective. But local law enforcement leaders say checkpoints not only help catch drunken drivers but also deter impaired driving in the first place.
DUI checkpoints boost public awareness about drunken driving and, because the checkpoints are announced ahead of time, encourage drinkers to plan other ways of travelling, said Sgt. Wade Kadrmas, safety and education officer with the North Dakota State Highway Patrol.
House Bill 1442, which would outlaw DUI checkpoints, was passed by House lawmakers with a 79-14 vote on Feb. 12. And it's now headed to the Senate for consideration.
The Highway Patrol is taking a neutral stance on the legislation, saying the agency will follow the law whatever the outcome, Kadrmas said.
Fargo Police Chief David Todd and Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner both support DUI checkpoints, saying they are s a useful tool to get DUI drivers off the road and that the bill takes that away from law enforcement officials.
The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Rick Becker, said supporting checkpoints by arguing they offer an additional enforcement method for officers is “cliched,” saying they have been “proven inadequate.” Becker, R-Bismarck, said that for DUI checkpoints to be effective, they need to be conducted more frequently and have wider advertisement.
Numbers from North Dakota law enforcement agencies show that only a fraction of DUI arrests come from checkpoints.
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The Highway Patrol conducted 16 checkpoints across the state between January 2017 and December 2018. Those checkpoints resulted in 17 DUI arrests. Another 17 arrests were for driving under suspension, warrants, drug offenses and underage drinking.
In all, the Highway Patrol made 1,135 DUI arrests in 2017 and 1,158 in 2018.
The Cass County Sheriff’s Office conducted two recent checkpoints, one in 2016 and one in 2017. A total of 333 vehicles were stopped, and 33 drivers were evaluated, resulting in six arrests. In 2016 and 2017, sheriff’s deputies on roving sobriety patrols stopped 215 vehicles and made 45 arrests for DUI or alcohol-related offenses.
Jahner acknowledged that roving sobriety patrols have been more effective for the sheriff’s office, but pointed out that it's difficult to quantify how many drunken drivers were deterred because a checkpoint was announced.
The Fargo Police Department hasn’t conducted a DUI checkpoint since 2014 because the department is stretched for staffing and checkpoints are “manpower intensive,” Todd said.
But between October 2004 and August 2014, the department conducted 62 DUI checkpoints. A total of 10,732 drivers were screened, resulting in 179 DUI arrests. There were an additional 147 arrests in connection with underage drinking, drug offenses and other crimes.