Armed with Twitter, Ustream, and a “Checkpoint Ahead” sign Michael Mikkelsen, of Kansas City, hopes to bring attention to the Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations inherent in DUI checkpoints and to help drivers avoid such checkpoints in the Kansas City area. In the course of Mikkelsen’s checkpoint protests he has endured harassment by Kansas City police officers, including being handcuffed and placed in a patrol car. Recently, in a brazen act of armed criminal theft, a Kansas City police officer stole Mikkelsen’s “Checkpoint Ahead” sign right out of his hands. According to Mikkelson:
I was engaged in a 1st (First) Amendment protected political protest. There was an obvious public interest for the speech that I was providing to the community. Officer Stewart observed my protest for approx. 10 to 15 minutes from across the intersection. I was holding a 2ft by 4ft coroplast sign. Officer Stewart was in a white marked police van with lights. She turned on the lights and pulled up next to the sidewalk that I was holding my sign on. She got out of the vehicle and approached me asking what I was doing. She did not ask me to leave or accuse me of a crime. She grabbed my sign and I said, “Please do not touch my sign.” She then pulled the sign out of my hands bent/folded it and put it in the passenger seat of her van. I asked her nicely “will you please give me back my property?” She said, “No.” I asked her for her name and she said it was officer Stewart. I turned and walked away. She drove up beside me as I was walking away and asked my name. Then she drove off with my sign.
I went to the police station at 1200 E. Linwood to report the theft of my sign, the violation of my free speech rights, and to inquire about getting my property back. I spoke with Office Zeplin and then Sgt. Cutburth (#692) who refused to take my criminal complaint of theft. After multiple inquiries about the location of my property, Cutburth informed me that officer Stewart took my property to the DUI checkpoint. I went to the DUI checkpoint and inquired. I was told that my sign had been put in truck #308 and taken to the police gas station at 1245 Prospect. I recovered my sign on a bench at the front of the service station building.I spoke with Sgt. Sticken at East Patrol who was told by Officer Stewart’s supervisor Sgt. Lenz, that there was not an incident report regarding my property and the custody thereof.
I know some who read this will say, “But drunk drivers are dangerous, I support these checkpoints, Mikkelson deserved to get his sign stolen”. I will not argue here whether or not DUI should be a crime. I will argue, however, that even if you think DUI should be illegal, checkpoints are not effective and the money spent on this type of enforcement is mostly wasted. In fact, checkpoints are so ineffective that the intrusion on our right to be secure in our person and papers cannot be justified and neither can the cost.
Based on self-reporting surveys, there are 147 million incidents of driving while impaired by alcohol every year. That is over 400,000 incidents of alcohol impaired driving every day. Of these incidents, 0.00007% (30 per day) result in death. The overwhelming majority of alcohol-impaired drivers make it home safely. The number of drunk drivers who will actually cause fatal accidents is so low, that it is unlikely that taking the 1.7 million arrested every year off the road would have much of an impact on the number of fatalities. It is even more unlikely that an alcohol-impaired driver who would have caused a fatal accident will be caught during a checkpoint. Despite this fact, millions of dollars are spent to enforce DUI laws utilizing checkpoints. Knowing these numbers, would you voluntarily write out a check to support enforcement using checkpoints?
Some of you would no doubt say yes, you are willing to fund the millions that are spent on enforcement because you think it would be worth it if it saved even one of those 30 people a day. You should still be very skeptical of the usefulness of checkpoints. Saturation patrols, where officers saturate an area known to have a high rate of alcohol-related accidents, have been shown to be more effective in catching drunk drivers. The officers on these patrols look for signs of impaired driving, such as crossing over the middle line, and then make a stop. Instead of just herding every vehicle on a particular street into a line and demanding “your papers, please”, they actually make stops based on the suspicion that someone is impaired. Also, since they are looking for obvious signs of impaired driving, they are more likely to catch the drivers who are the most drunk and therefore the most dangerous (67% of drunk drivers involved in fatal accidents have a BAC greater than 0.15.)
Saturation patrols are not just less intrusive and more effective than checkpoints, they are also less expensive. Between 2006 and 2007, for example, Independence, MO, which is a suburb of Kansas City, spent $247.09 per arrest using checkpoints, and only $31.79 per arrest using saturation patrols.
Should we continue to put up with the intrusiveness of DUI checkpoints when they are unlikely to save lives? Should we tolerate their intrusiveness when there are less meddlesome and less expensive alternatives?