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Sobriety Checkpoints: Doing More Checkpoints with LESS

NCJ Number
Police Chief Volume: 72 Issue: 7 Dated: July 2005 Pages: 20-23,25
J. F. Bowman; Jerry Stemler
Date Published
July 2005
5 pages
This article describes the evolution and current features of Fairfax County's (Virginia) sobriety checkpoint program.
This article explains how the Traffic Division of the Fairfax County Police Department increased the frequency of sobriety checkpoints, reduced their cost, and gained the support of division personnel, leading to a reduction in drunk-driver crashes in the county. Staff recognized that the deterrence effectiveness of sobriety checkpoints depended on increasing their frequency and number, which was only possible by reducing the number of officers required to establish and operate a checkpoint. In 1993, the department struggled to conduct 1 sobriety checkpoint every 3 months, which involved 30-40 officers operating the checkpoint for 5 hours, requiring overtime pay. It became clear that the effectiveness of checkpoints required that their number be increased; but this could not occur without reducing costs and gaining the commitment of personnel to the goal of more checkpoints. By the end of 2003, the department was scheduling at least one checkpoint every week. This was done by reducing checkpoint personnel to eight screening officers from across stations and one supervisor from the jurisdiction in which the checkpoint was located. Further, checkpoint operations were reduced from 5 hours to 3 hours. Affordable technology that accompanied these changes included strobe light technology, digital orthophotography technology to provide images of a selected checkpoint location, the use of passive alcohol detection technology, and the innovative application of vehicle counter technology. Preliminary data show that with the introduction of the new sobriety checkpoint program in the last 18 months of a 5-year study, the involvement of drinking drivers in crashes decreased 11 percent. 2 figures and an outline of the county's basic sobriety checkpoint functions