Likely fewer DUI checkpoints in Missouri under new state budget

The state budget that went into effect July 1 could lead to fewer impaired driving checkpoints but more periods of increased law enforcement presence on Missouri roads.

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Under language the House proposed no money controlled by that budget can be used on checkpoints.  Specifically, $20-million available for grants that law enforcement agencies have used to fund various efforts now cannot be used for checkpoints.

Supporters said data from the Department of Transportation show that periods of having more officers on the roads, often called “saturation efforts,” get more results for the money invested.

MODOT reported that in the year that ended July 1, 2016, saturation efforts resulted in 3,055 arrests at a cost of $704 per arrest, compared 1,201 arrests at checkpoints at a cost of $1,047 per arrest.   Over the three years through July 1, 2016, saturation periods yielded 9,288 arrests at $704 apiece compared to 4,152 arrests at checkpoints costing $919 each.

A comparison by House staff of states in which checkpoints are legal with states in which they are not found that the latter had a slightly lower number of drunk driving fatalities per capita.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said the new language was about making the most effective use of Missouri budget dollars and taking the most effective action toward making roads safer.

“I was convinced by the data … that it’s a better use of money, and it saves more lives by getting more drunk drivers off the road and it does so at a lower cost,” said Fitzpatrick.  “From a budgeting perspective it’s hard to argue in any way that checkpoints are the more effective method than saturation patrols.”

Representative Justin Hill (R-Lake St. Louis), a former O’Fallon Police officer, supported the restriction.

“What we’re going to see is better bang for the taxpayer’s buck because when you put an officer out there and say, ‘Go get an impaired driver,’ for four hours, chances are the officer’s going to find one, but when you add all those officers on one single checkpoint … they average anywhere from three to five.  For 20 officers that’s just not effective use of taxpayer dollars,” said Hill.

Representative Kathie Conway (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The prohibition was strongly opposed by St. Charles Republican Kathie Conway, who chairs the budget subcommittee on Public Safety.  She argues it’s misleading to say saturation patrols yield more arrests.

Conway said saturation efforts and checkpoints work together, first by publicizing checkpoints on social media and traffic announcements.

“That drives people away from that checkpoint.  Then the saturation on the perimeters of that, because there’s only so many ways to avoid that checkpoint, they catch them,” said Conway.  “So to say they don’t catch people at check points … if you want to get technical about it they’re not, but having that checkpoint they know where the people are going to be going to avoid it.”

From now through June 30, 2018, Missouri law enforcement agencies can still conduct checkpoints, but would have to pay for them through means other than these grants.