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Sobriety checkpoints don't net many drunk driving arrests but police, MADD say they're crucial

Victim's mother says blitzes deter drunk driving
Posted: 3:41 PM, Nov 14, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-16 15:49:02Z

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana — The holidays are prime time for drinking alcohol, and typically the busiest time of year for drunk driving arrests.

Central Indiana law enforcement agencies will be conducting sobriety checkpoints, which typically cost thousands of dollars each.

WRTV television station in Indianapolis dug into the numbers to find out how many arrests police are making at checkpoints, and what it means for you on the road if you get stopped.

THE IMPACT OF DRUNK DRIVING — SILINA’S STORY

At the age of 17, Silina Kelshaw wasn’t a poet.

But on June 10, 2002 she wrote a poem to her friend.

Silina’s mother, Pam Kelshaw, shared it with Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney.

"I love you unconditionally your heart I see, so when in need please call on me.  I am your guardian angel," said Pam as she read Silina’s poem.

Hours after writing those words, a drunk driver killed Silina.

“That day she says ‘I love you mommy’ and I said ‘ditto’ and that was the last words I said to my daughter,” Kelshaw said.

The driver, Jimmy Powers, was driving 120 mph and ran a stop sign.

Powers received an eight-year sentence for vehicular homicide, but served less than four years in prison.

To honor Silina’s memory, Pam Kelshaw stops by DUI checkpoints to remind officers of Silina’s story and the importance of catching drunk drivers.

SOBRIETY CHECKPOINTS — THE COST AND RESULTS

WRTV cameras captured a Friday night sobriety checkpoint on Madison Avenue as part of the national campaign “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.”

“We are here to detect impaired drivers,” said Indianapolis Metro Police Sgt. Michael Duke. “We’re interacting with a lot more people when we have a checkpoint than if we were out just roaming.”

The Friday night checkpoint cost $5,000, and was federally funded through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

“We are not playing,” Duke said. “We don’t play. If we can arrest you, you’re going to jail for DUI.”

WRTV cameras were rolling during a scary moment as a teenage driver peeled out of the checkpoint, leaving his driver’s license with police and narrowly missing officers and a WRTV photographer.

“The car had marijuana in it, and that’s why he fled,” Duke said. “Lately we’re getting a lot more marijuana issues. They roll down the window and the odor of marijuana comes out and that’s probable cause to look into the car.”

A warrant was issued for the teen’s arrest, and he was later charged with resisting law enforcement, criminal recklessness, and possession of marijuana.

But what about arresting drunk drivers at the checkpoint?

More than 700 vehicles drove through the checkpoint going southbound on Madison Avenue.

Of the 368 vehicles checked by police on August 24, officers arrested only one drunken driver—  David Steven Callahan.

Prosecutors filed criminal charges against David Steven Callahan and he pleaded guilty Oct. 10 to operating while intoxicated.

Callahan reached a plea agreement and was sentenced to 6 months of probation, a 60-day license suspension, a substance abuse evaluation, and he can’t consume alcohol while on probation.

“David realized he made a poor choice in driving and wanted to resolve this quickly and get this behind him,” his attorney Eric Crupp said.

Statistics show of the hundreds of vehicles checked by police on August 24, only .3% resulted in a drunk driving arrest.

So, was that a fluke?

Maybe not.

WRTV obtained statewide statistics from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute for the past four years, which includes checkpoints funded through ICJI and NHTSA overtime grants.

Of the 91,278 vehicles that went through checkpoints, either drove through without stopping or those that stopped, less than 1% of the drivers were arrested for operating while intoxicated.

 

 

 

If you pass through a sobriety checkpoint, data shows you’re more likely to get a citation for something other than drunk driving. Among the violations most often cited — speeding, following too close, texting and improper lane usage, among others.

Duke said their goal with sobriety checkpoints is to get as many cars through as possible and to find the drunk drivers.

"We are looking for impaired drivers, that’s what we’re here for,” Duke said. “We’re not here looking for someone with an expired license plate.  We don’t run people to determine if there's a warrant for their arrest because it just slows everything down.”  

Duke said taking officers off their regular patrols to work a sobriety checkpoint is well worth it.

“The (arrest) numbers may not be that high, but when I go out in the night and make 15 to 20 traffic stops I don't make 15 to 20 DUI arrests,” he said. “Those numbers you don't bat a thousand every time. You do your best."

MOTHERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING REACTS TO WRTV'S FINDINGS

WRTV shared our findings with Mothers Against Drunk Driving spokeswoman Annie Baker, who said arrest numbers were not concerning.

“We know checkpoints are not for high arrest rates,” Baker said. “We aren’t looking for huge numbers. We are looking for the publicity of the checkpoint and to inform the community and send a message that it’s not going to be tolerated.”

Baker said sobriety checkpoints work to stop drunk driving.

“I think that’s why we see them so often,” said Baker. “We know if they’re consistent and publicized well, then they are effective.”

Baker said publicizing OWI checkpoints deters people from drinking and driving in the first place.

“It reminds people to continue to think ahead and make those arrangements prior because they know that law enforcement is out,” said Baker. “I think that’s a big misconception about the purpose of the checkpoints, and it’s kind of hush hush like it’s a secret or something. We want people to know so they don’t make a bad decision that night.”

Baker said arrests are just one part of a bigger picture in changing behavior.

The biggest cost of sobriety checkpoints is staffing — typically agencies have at least a dozen officers working four hours for a total cost of about $2,000 to $7,000 each checkpoint.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving says they are a good use of taxpayer money.

“I think so if it saves lives it is worth it,” Baker said.

INDIANA ONE OF 37 STATES THAT ALLOW SOBRIETY CHECKPOINTS

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, Indiana is one of 37 states that allow police to conduct sobriety checkpoints.

Some states prohibit them by state law or Constitution .

Other methods to catch drunk drivers include roving patrols and saturation patrols in which police drive around areas where people often drink and drive.

Police agencies in Indiana and MADD plan for sobriety checkpoints to continue in Indiana, although they admit it’s tough to measure how many people checkpoints deter from drinking and driving.

Pam Kelshaw wishes someone had stopped the drunk driver who killed her daughter Silina.

“I would love to see an increase in sobriety checkpoints,” she said. “I feel they’re out there doing it for Silina.”

All she has left is Silina’s blanket, memories and the hope that her story will save someone else’s life.