September 30, 2014

Medina
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Police: Arrests not point of OVI checkpoints

The drunken-driving checkpoints throughout the year are designed to deter impaired driving, not make tons of arrests, police said.

Medina County residents on The Gazette’s website and Facebook page have questioned the effectiveness of the federally funded checkpoints almost every time one is announced. The checkpoints test drivers’ sobriety in areas with histories of alcohol-impaired driving.

One reader, Jack Butler, disapproved after the most recent checkpoint on the eve of Thanksgiving ended with two arrests.

“What a waste of tax dollars!” Butler wrote. “Two people? Sure, it’s a federal grant, but where do federal dollars come from? You and me!”

About a checkpoint in August, reader Mike Doyle, wrote: “581 motorists stopped with three OVI arrests? This is a tremendous waste of time and manpower.”

Brunswick police Lt. Brian Ohlin, who chairs the Medina County OVI Task Force, said residents shouldn’t be focusing on the number of arrests because the checkpoints are about discouraging motorists from driving drunk.

“It’s much more about the deterrent effect and the high-visibility efforts of law enforcement,” Ohlin said. “Because there aren’t a lot of arrests being made, our efforts are in part working.”

He said the federal funding requires the task force, which is made up of officers from almost every law enforcement agency in the county, to do at least 12 checkpoints a year.

Before each checkpoint, law enforcement is required by law to announce the location. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police otherwise would be violating Fourth Amendment protection against search and seizure.

When the checkpoint before Thanksgiving was announced, readers questioned forewarning drivers.

“Can someone please explain to me why these checkpoints are advertised?” Andrea Stanard Lyons wrote. “I think it should be a surprise as people should always have a designated driver.”

Eva Smith Buhite agreed.

“Everyone is being warned. This is one thing I don’t agree with,” she wrote. “I agree that it should be happening, but I think it should not have to be posted.

“If you drink and drive, why should you be warned where they are going to be?”

Ohlin said people are missing the point.

“It lets the public know we’re doing it in the hopes that we’ll prevent someone driving impaired,” he said.

He said it’s better to deter drunken drivers than to arrest them. If they’re off the road, Ohlin said, they can’t harm anyone.

In addition to the checkpoints, Ohlin said police engage in “saturation patrols.”

On these patrols, police search for signs of drunken driving in the area surrounding a checkpoint to catch anyone who may be avoiding it.

Officers working the checkpoint and saturation patrols are off duty and are paid with the grant money. This year, Ohlin said, the task force received $135,000 to continue the patrols.

Ohlin said he thinks the checkpoints have deterred drivers significantly, as evidenced by the county having just two alcohol-related driving deaths so far this year — compared with nine in 2012 and 16 in 2011.

“I can’t say that it’s all-encompassing and the end all-be all to address the problem,” he said.

“That’s just not realistic to think about. But I do believe the OVI Task Force is in part responsible for improving the situation.”

Other reasons include education efforts locally and nationally, such as the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign.

He said he hopes people understand the importance of the checkpoints.

“Even if we prevent one crash involving an impaired driver and save one life, that’s worth it,” Ohlin said. “$135,000 in grant money doesn’t even measure up to a life.”

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.