DO SO­BRI­ETY CHECKS TRAM­PLE ON OUR RIGHTS?

Post-Tribune - - Front Page - JERRY DAVICH jdavich@post-trib.com

A“Those who sac­ri­fice liberty for se­cu­rity de­serve nei­ther.” — Ben Franklin

re po­lice-con­ducted so­bri­ety check­points a nec­es­sary law en­force­ment tool to re­move drunken driv­ers from our roads? Or are they an un­rea­son­able search of our prop­erty and an un­con­sti­tu­tional in­va­sion of our rights and pri­vacy?

Ham­mond Po­lice Depart­ment Lt. Pa­trick Vi­cari in­sists that so­bri­ety check­points are a valu­able, and mea­sur­able, public safety tool that curbs the num­ber of im­paired mo­torists from traf­fic.

As his depart­ment’s Traf­fic Di­vi­sion com­man­der, he or­ga­nizes pe­ri­odic check­points in his city, which always prove suc­cess­ful to var­i­ous de­grees. Not only do the check­points de­tect and ar­rest drunken driv­ers, they also prompt other ci­ta­tions by po­lice, typ­i­cally for equip­ment and driver’s li­cense vi­o­la­tions. Other times for more se­ri­ous crimes.

“Traf­fic safety is my pas­sion,” Vi­cari told me on my lat­est ra­dio show. “In my 21 years on the force, I never had much de­sire to do any­thing else. This is what makes me happy and mo­ti­vates me to come to work ev­ery day.”

Dur­ing his depart­ment’s lat­est so­bri­ety check­point — a late-night, three-hour op­er­a­tion in front of a closed gas sta­tion at the Five Points in­ter­sec­tion in Roberts­dale — of­fi­cers ar­rested five mo­torists for sus­pi­cion of im­paired driv­ing. Of­fi­cers also is­sued 111 other ci­ta­tions that night, in­clud­ing one ar­rest for pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana.

Would po­lice have found that pot, or the other many vi­o­la­tions, if not for the check­point? Prob­a­bly not.

“It’s clearly a vi­o­la­tion of the 4th Amend­ment and it shouldn’t be al­lowed,” said Jerry H. of Val­paraiso. “The 4th Amend­ment pro­hibits un­rea­son­able searches and seizures and re­quires any war­rant to be ju­di­cially sanc­tioned and sup­ported by prob­a­ble cause.”

He has a valid point, and one taken se­ri­ously by most Amer­i­cans. But not always when it comes to ar­rest­ing drunken driv­ers, as read­ers re­cently told me.

“I would gladly sac­ri­fice my 4th Amend­ment right to keep some­one from be­ing hurt or killed by a drunk driver,” said Carla S. from Val­paraiso.

“Drunk­en­ness is not an un­rea­son­able cause,” said Glenn Y. of Portage. “Drive sober, then you don’t have to hide un­der any amend­ment.”

By law, po­lice must first pub­licly post an­nounce­ments of the check­points, and Vi­cari is one of the best cops in the re­gion to do this on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. The check­points are part of the statewide Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over traf­fic safety campaign, with grant money pay­ing over­time to of­fi­cers.

“Mo­torists who are stopped will be asked for their driver’s li­cense and reg­is­tra­tion if stopped. Mo­torists who have no vi­o­la­tions may ex­pect to be de­layed about two to three min­utes be­fore go­ing on their way,” his press re­lease states.

Have you ever been pulled over for one? I have, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

“I know some peo­ple will say that Big Brother is im­pos­ing on them when we con­duct traf­fic safety cam­paigns,” Vi­cari said. “To them I’d say that by do­ing this par­tic­u­lar campaign, we re­moved five im­paired driv­ers from our road­ways thereby mak­ing our roads safer.

“Al­though there is a cer­tain stigma of be­ing the vic­tim of a homi­cide, there is no dif­fer­ence between be­ing the vic­tim of a homi­cide or the vic­tim of an im­paired driver. The vic­tim’s fam­ily will still suf­fer all the same,” he added.

Dur­ing th­ese check­points, po­lice search ev­ery third ve­hi­cle, re­gard­less of how the driver looks, acts or drives.

“They ar­rest peo­ple for other things be­sides be­ing drunk, which just makes it a check­point like they did in (Nazi) Ger­many,” Jim W. of Val­paraiso told me. “I don’t sup­port driv­ing drunk, but if it’s a so­bri­ety check­point then that is the only thing they should be able to ar­rest a per­son for.”

Scott C. of Mer­ril­lville agrees, in­sist­ing that check­points are a clear vi­o­la­tion of our con­sti­tu­tional rights.

“Yes, the Supreme Court ruled in fa­vor of un­con­sti­tu­tional check­points in a split de­ci­sion cit­ing that they could make ex­cep­tions to our Con­sti­tu­tion,” he told me. “I missed that phrase in the Con­sti­tu­tion that al­lows for ex­cep­tions to be made. Shame on all who sup­port this.”

And to the cops who man th­ese check­points, Scott C. said, “Call­ing it your job still don’t make it right,” echo­ing a John Mel­len­camp song, I think.

Crit­ics of the check­points tell mo­torists they don’t have to an­swer any ques­tions by po­lice. Just show your driver’s li­cense and reg­is­tra­tion, as required by law, they say.

I have mixed feel­ings about this is­sue, es­pe­cially af­ter once get­ting pulled over by po­lice for al­leged drunken driv­ing, sev­eral years ago. It hap­pened near a check­point and I be­lieve the cops thought I was avoid­ing the check­point due to be­ing in­tox­i­cated.

In truth, I rarely drink al­co­hol, I’ve never been (ex­ple­tive)-faced drunk, and I’ve never driven un­der the in­flu­ence of any­thing be­sides sleepi­ness. That was pos­si­bly a fac­tor when I got pulled over that night in Portage, I don’t know.

The of­fi­cer had me do about ev­ery field so­bri­ety test in his arse­nal on the side of that busy road as other mo­torists slowed down to gape at me. It was em­bar­rass­ing. It was in­fu­ri­at­ing. It was un­called for, I thought at the time.

Th­ese days, I feel dif­fer­ently.

I see too many ap­par­ently drunken driv­ers weav­ing in and out of traf­fic. I see too many crashes caused by drink­ing and driv­ing in the news­pa­per po­lice blot­ters. I see too many peo­ple I know get be­hind the wheel af­ter down­ing “just a cou­ple beers,” when in re­al­ity they lost track of all the booze they drank.

Of­ten, they’re un­der the in­flu­ence of de­nial. Or pride. Or just plain stub­born­ness.

I also know sev­eral well-known al­co­holics who mirac­u­lously haven’t been pulled over while ob­vi­ously drunk, again. And who mirac­u­lously haven’t hurt or killed any­one, yet.

So I, too, am will­ing to sac­ri­fice my con­sti­tu­tional rights in this case if it helps get th­ese dan­ger­ous knuck­le­heads off the streets and out of my path. Agree? Dis­agree? Let me know and I’ll re­visit this is­sue.

| JIM KARCZEWSKI/FOR SUN-TIMES ME­DIA

Sgt. Tracy Lau­rinec es­corts a man who was found to be in­tox­i­cated at a so­bri­ety check­point in Ham­mond on Aug. 22.

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