JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) Missouri lawmakers effectively eliminated funding for sobriety checkpoints for the fiscal year that begins in July, a move by a core group of critical conservative Republicans that officials say could hinder or end the manpower-intensive practice in some areas of the state.
Missouri lawmakers in the past provided federal funding for both sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols. Checkpoints involve blocking a street so that all drivers are funneled through a group of officers and are stopped. The saturation patrols involve positioning extra officers in pre-defined, unannounced areas to watch for signs of drunken driving before pulling over drivers.
The budget now on Republican Gov. Eric Greitens’ desk shifts all but $1 of the $20 million devoted to impaired driving detection to saturation patrols a technical budgeting maneuver. Police will still be able to set up checkpoints, but they can’t pay for them using that funding.
Missouri Department of Transportation Highway Safety Director Bill Whitfield said without the money, some police agencies cancelled checkpoints planned for the summer, when he said more motorists are on the road because of vacations and drunken driving is more common.
Springfield Police Capt. Ben King, who leads that city’s checkpoint operations, said the agency uses both that tactic and saturation patrols. He said publicized checkpoints have the added benefit of educating drivers and making people “think twice about getting in that car.”
King said state funding has been key in paying for police overtime for the checkpoints, which in Springfield require help from the Greene County Sheriff’s Department and other neighboring police agencies.
“We have still not discussed whether we’ll try to do those in the future with our own funds, but it’s not likely that we’ll be able to do that at this point unless some other funding source is found,” he said.
Criticism among Republican Missouri lawmakers during the annual legislative session that ended in May centered on concerns about protections against unreasonable search and seizure and due process rights. With checkpoints, all drivers are stopped even if they don’t appear to be doing anything illegal.
Law enforcement officers in 12 other states do not conduct checkpoints, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute.
Republican Rep. Bart Korman, of High Hill, said he stopped short of proposing an outright ban on sobriety checkpoints to give local police options, but said taxpayer money shouldn’t be spent on them.
Korman and other critics argue saturation points can be more effective at combatting drunken driving compared to checkpoints, the locations of which now can be quickly flagged online and in social media so motorists can avoid them.
“I don’t think it’s going to have a large impact overall on changing DWIs,” Korman said of the funding cut. “I think it might actually increase enforcement.”
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