KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers are considering a proposal that could ban sobriety checkpoints, but law enforcement and victim advocates consider those checkpoints an important tool in taking drunk drivers off the road.
The Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department’s Mobile DWI Enforcement Center is essentially a police station on wheels where suspected drunk drivers provide a breathe sample and get processed before being taken to jail. When it’s on the streets, word of the rolling command unit spreads fast.
“There’s no greater benefit from the psychology that, ‘Hey, the police are out there doing a checkpoint,’ so more people are now getting designated drivers, more people are now calling for Ubers and Lyfts,” Sgt. Corey Carlisle, with KCPD’s DUI Section, said.
But since the state cut funding for sobriety checkpoints in 2017, the mobile unit stays parked inside a garage.
Now KCPD relies on saturation patrols, when several officers look for traffic violations to see if the driver is impaired. There’s a stark difference in the number of arrests.
“Our DUI checkpoint on Southwest Boulevard, for one checkpoint, they were able to arrest 40 DUIs,” Carlisle said. “This past St. Patrick’s Day, with a ‘wolfpack’ or saturation patrol, we were only able to get 12.”
At the state level, talks are underway to permanently eliminate checkpoints. State Rep. Justin Hill, who represents St. Charles County, said during a recent committee hearing regarding his proposed legislation, that the state had “yet to allow funds back into checkpoints.”
“So rather than make this a budget issue every year, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to let voters weigh in on whether they like allowing checkpoints to exist for DWIs,” Hill said.
If House Joint Resolution No. 11 passes, Missourians would vote next November on whether to ban checkpoints except in some extenuating circumstances.
The proposal already is drumming up debate. Brian Bernskoetter, who represents the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, is in favor of the legislation.
“We feel like checkpoints violate one of the most fundamental tenants of our, of our liberties [to] go out freely without government intervention,” Bernskoetter said.
Victim advocates like Meghan Carter, director of field operations for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.), disagree.
“We have heard about the inconvenience of sitting through a sobriety checkpoint and having to go through one,” Carter said. “If you want to hear about an inconvenience, if you will, speak with those individuals who’ve lost loved ones. Speak with those individuals who have been injured and are forever going to live their lives with the impact of something that’s 100% preventable.”
KCPD reported that 103 people died in 2020 in 97 crashes. Investigators said drugs or alcohol were a factor in more than half of those crashes.
“Without being able to do checkpoints, we’re not using all the tools that we have,” Carlisle said.
Ten states that prohibit sobriety checkpoints, according to M.A.D.D., and Alaska and Montana choose not to do them.