OUR VIEW: Ramp up patrol, ease back on checkpoints
The South Dakota Highway Patrol this year is on pace to conduct more sobriety checkpoints than ever on record.
Cracking down on drunken driving, troopers by the end of the year will likely surpass 2015's mark of 254 checkpoints statewide. That's a lot of checkpoints — and means there's one somewhere in South Dakota about two out of every three days.
While we appreciate the Highway Patrol's efforts in taking a strong stance against drunk driving, we wonder if the department is relying too heavily on sobriety checkpoints.
Rather, we'd like to see those efforts — and state dollars — go toward more patrol on the interstate and state highways.
Last year, sobriety checkpoints were conducted in 49 of the state's 66 counties — so we're pleased to see the work is being spread out throughout South Dakota. But we know Highway Patrol troopers many times are overworked, and they cover large regions and sometimes travel hundreds of miles in a single shift. Are checkpoints the best use of their time?
Aside from Highway Patrol, many times sheriff's offices and local police departments assist in the checkpoints. Again, many law enforcement agencies in the state are understaffed, and we as taxpayers who help fund their offices believe their time is better suited responding to crime and working on patrol.
While on patrol, troopers are able to respond to a wide variety of calls, including crashes, assistance or an arrest. While working a checkpoint — even if it's just a one-hour long checkpoint — essentially locks a trooper in an area. And, Highway Patrol could work a checkpoint for hours without making an arrest or writing a citation.
To be clear, we're not against checkpoints. In fact, we know they can be very beneficial. A South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department game stop — a checkpoint for wildlife — in November 2015 on the interstate near White Lake tallied 147 violations in a 24-hour period.
Sobriety checkpoints, we presume, can be just as effective. Checkpoints are set up in areas where there are high numbers of alcohol-related arrests and crashes, so we applaud officials for having a justification for where they set up.
But an important fact is that South Dakota is not seeing a significant increase in DUI arrests — there were 11,282 in 2015. That's below 2014 at 11,756.
Every DUI arrest is one too many, but we don't think ramping up checkpoints is the way to attack the problem.
Rather, we'd like to see more troopers patrolling South Dakota's interstates and highways to focus on all aspects of safety, rather than just pinpointing DUIs through sobriety checkpoints.