By Joanie Baker, Messenger-Inquirer
It's no secret to police that intoxicated drivers use side roads rather than main thoroughfares to navigate their way home from a bar in an attempt to avoid a citation.
But since October, officials have been using statistics that show which areas in the city have experienced the most alcohol-related accidents in an effort to set up sobriety checkpoints.
And while the locations, such as small residential roads, may seem unusual, officials say the strategically selected spots have yielded a significant increase in the number of citations they hand out during the checkpoints, which are conducted two to three times a month.
Sgt. Jim Parham, head of the Owensboro Police Department traffic unit, said officers may decide to set up a checkpoint from 5 to 10 p.m. on a Wednesday, so crime analyst Jim Greenland will create a map showing the DUI crashes that have occurred on Wednesdays during that time.
"We can look for clusters and best coordinate our efforts to places that need addressing," Parham said, pointing at a group of stars on Wing Avenue that led officers to a recent checkpoint. "A lot of drunk drivers take back roads to avoid us, but we're set up in a lot of areas where no one would expect."
During this fiscal year, Parham said the department is putting an emphasis on reducing the number of DUI crashes and is using grant money to do more checkpoints.
Since 2002, Owensboro has averaged about 88 DUI-related accidents per year, with a high of 110 in 2002 and a low of 78 in 2005.
Parham said that since the department began using statistics to choose checkpoint sites rather than officer's experience-based opinions, the number of DUI arrests at checkpoints has increased from about 11 percent to 54 percent. Since November, there have been six DUI arrests made at checkpoints.
"We've used mapping before for checkpoints, but we're really relying a lot more heavily on them now," Parham said. "If it's challenged in court by someone arrested we can show we're in a particular area because of the number of DUI crashes, and that's very easy to defend in court."
Parham said he's surprised at how effective the system has been, adding that police once arrested two intoxicated drivers in a five-hour period while set up on Fairfax Drive, a one-block street.
Greenland said the process of using statistics creates a full-circle effect as officers go back to the streets to root out a problem they found the first time they were there.
"The officer will gather the information from the field that goes into databases, and then they go right back into (that) field," he said. "It's almost like a full circle."
Officers aren't just finding intoxicated drivers at the checkpoints. While national studies show that checkpoints deter other crimes, Parham said officers cite more drivers for not wearing their seat belt or having expired insurance and suspended licenses. He said while checking each driver's license, registration and proof of insurance, they have found wanted people, drivers with outstanding warrants and drugs that lead to a significant number of nonalcohol-related arrests.
Officer Dane Holder said he enjoys working checkpoints because of the satisfaction of working with a group of people who all pull together to provide an immediate service to the community.
Holder said that despite the time people sometimes sit in line waiting for their turn to pass, most people express their thanks to officers for taking an approach to make their neighborhood more safe.
The officer said people don't realize how intoxicated some of the drivers are that are arrested at the sites.
Owensboro Police Department Officer Dane Holder checks for a valid driver's license, vehicle registration and auto insurance from a driver Feb. 28 in the 1100 block of Wing Avenue.
"When you have seven cruisers with lights and they are still so impaired that they drive right up to you (with) a 12-pack and an open container sitting in a coozie, it's showing you if he's impaired at the level that he's not recognizing this, he's not going to recognize a child in the road or the distance between him and the car in front of him," Holder said. "(The checkpoints) are that important."
Parham said some people may think a checkpoint is an accident and turn around to get out of the officer's way. But anyone seen leaving a checkpoint will be stopped by police.
"We've had drivers pull into a driveway and knock on a door to make us think they know someone who lives there" and avoid a DUI citation, Parham said. "But we've come to recognize that, and I feel that this will really have an impact on DUI crashes in the area."
Copyright (c) 2007, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.
Ky. police utilize statistics to choose checkpoints