Police forces tackle drunk driving

“Drunk driving, Over the limit, Under arrest” is the slogan for the Leon County Multi-Agency DUI Strike Force, which sets up safety checkpoints around town to encourage safe driving. The strike force is composed of the Florida A&M University and Florida State University police departments. The Tallahassee Police Department, Leon County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Highway Patrol also participate.

The strike force holds monthly meetings to determine which departments will host the driving under the influence sobriety checkpoints. The checkpoints must first be approved by the State Attorney’s Office.

The goals of the safety checkpoints are to deter DUI drivers; reduce death, injury and property damage directly caused by alcohol and drug impaired drivers; ensure the safety of effected motorists and officers at the checkpoints; increase public awareness and encourage community members not to drink and drive.

The site selection for roadside checkpoints varies by officer safety and need. There must be a suitable area to pull cars off the roadway to minimize danger to motorists and officers. The traffic density of the roadway, roadway characteristics, lighting and other environmental factors must also be considered for officer safety.

Roadside checkpoints are performed most frequently on Friday and Saturday nights.

Vehicles are picked at random andstopped. Officers must wear uniforms to identify themselves as law enforcement authorities. Since September 2006, there have been five DUI cases on FAMU’s campus.

“A lot of things go on around campus that people don’t know about,” said Sgt. Derrick Folson of the FAMU Police Department. Drunk driving is not the only reason citations are given during roadside checkpoints. A driver can also be ticketed for violating the seat belt law, not carrying proper identification and improper tag information.

“I’m die hard with the strike force,” Folson said. He also said there was an increase of checkpoints during Spring Break. The City of Tallahassee reported that of its 10 traffic fatalities for 2003, seven deaths were alcohol-related.

Local universities, Leon County and the City of Tallahassee have each received significant attention because of the increases in underage drinking and DUI arrests.

“People need to be more responsible,” Folson said. He also said during checkpoints police are not just looking for impaired drivers. They also scan the car for weapons, drugs or anything out of the ordinary.

Some community members aid the checkpoints have been effective.

Kristin Allen, victim services manager for Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Florida, said there has been a significant change in the DUI rate since checkpoints were established.

She has been through one herself and commented that it was effective enough to catch someone possibly under the influence.

Research shows an 18 to 24 percent drop in crashes, deaths and injuries that are alcohol-related.

“Checkpoints are simple and make sense,” Allen said. Alexandria Bryant, 19, a freshman pre-nursing FSU student from Pensacola, encountered her first police checkpoint last summer.

“She (the police officer) politely asked me for my driver’s license as she visually scanned my vehicle,” Bryant said. “I handed over my license. The whole process took no longer than a couple of minutes.”

Folson said some students appreciate the checkpoints and learn not to take them for granted.