In their efforts to cut waste while at the same time generate new funding for transportation, Missouri House members voted to cut grants for field sobriety checkpoints from the state budget.
But, commanding officers of county law enforcement agencies believe revoking the grants would weaken their yearly enforcements, especially around the major holidays when more officers are needed on the streets.
An exact dollar value hasn’t been placed on the cuts and lawmakers say eliminating the grants will not end impaired driving enforcement.
State Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, who is vice chair of the House budget committee, says cutting the funding will allow law enforcement to develop more effective patrols.
“Does anyone still believe it’s (sobriety checkpoints) the best way to get drunk drivers off the road?” Alferman said. “As soon as one person realizes there is a checkpoint, everyone else knows to just go around it.”
Alferman added departments will still be able to do sobriety checkpoints, but won’t be reimbursed for officer overtime as many of the grants through the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) generally are used for.
Although some argue the checkpoints are tools for finding persons with other violations or who may have warrants, Alferman said he would rather see law enforcement use other methods like “Wolf Pack” patrols or automatic plate readers instead of stopping innocent drivers at roadblocks.
“Setting up a roadblock is blatantly unconstitutional,” Alferman said. “They are ineffective. The number of drunk drivers they catch is lower and lower.”
Although local departments don’t receive a large amount of money for the grants each year, Sheriff Steve Pelton noted that Franklin County ranks fourth of 114 counties in deaths involving impaired drivers, with 19 deaths.
In 2016, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department received five DWI grants totaling just under $5,800. When approved for a grant, deputies are paid overtime and the county is then reimbursed from the grant.
Pelton feels the grants are a deterrent and help keep those impaired drivers off of the road.
He added impaired drivers are those driving while drugged, including meth and heroin, not only motorists who have been drinking alcohol.
“There are a lot of innocent people on roadways hauling families,” Pelton said. “It is always a good thing to have people out there to aggressively prevent impaired driving.”
Union Police Chief Norman Brune said his department receives $14,000 in grant money each year and checkpoints are absolutely beneficial.
“The overall effectiveness of the grant (is that it) puts additional officers on the street working traffic enforcement, which in turn finds more people driving while revoked or suspended, driving without seat belts, driving without insurance and also driving while intoxicated,” Brune said.
“The DWI grant focuses on evening and night work, so the likelihood of finding drivers while intoxicated is greater for the DWI grant,” he added.
“We will continue to be effective we will just not be able to have the number of people running traffic as we are able to with these grants.”
The St. Clair Police Department receives about $5,000 in grants annually for DWI enforcement, which is used to pay officers’ overtime, according to Chief Bill Hammack.
“If we were to lose that, there would be a number of DWI arrests that, of course, we would not make,” he said. “Our officers are so busy during Fridays and Saturdays, the peak hours of DWI detection, that we don’t have the capabilities of being as proactive as we would like. So, we put an extra officer out at that time.”
The Washington Police Department recently applied for the MoDOT grants, seeking $5,250 from the state for DWI enforcement.
Last year the department got the grant and used $4,581.74 for DWI enforcement.