DUI Checkpoints: Worth the Time and Money?

Since 2012, more than half a million cars have passed through sobriety checkpoints in San Diego County, but some question whether it’s the best way to keep drunk drivers off the road.

Many people have driven through a sobriety or DUI checkpoint, or at the very least know about them. San Diego County has staged hundreds of checkpoints over the last few years and spent millions of dollars to staff them. 

But NBC 7 Investigates wanted to know what kind of results they produced. And why some feel they need to be eliminated completely. We filed public record requests with every law enforcement agency in San Diego County for statistics on DUI checkpoints. 

Data collected by NBC 7 Investigates found San Diego Police have had the most checkpoints in the County. 

On a Friday night in October, San Diego Police staged a DUI checkpoint on Ingraham Street in Pacific Beach. 

Through the night, more than 660 vehicles went through the checkpoint, resulting in 11 drivers being arrested for driving under the influence. 

That's higher than usual for San Diego Police. After analyzing the department’s checkpoint statistics, NBC 7 Investigates found on average, San Diego Police make eight arrests per checkpoint. 

Across San Diego County, since 2012, more than 500,000 drivers have passed through checkpoints, resulting in 2,700 drivers arrested at checkpoints. That's only 3-percent of drivers who went through them. 

“The amount of money that is spent and quite frankly wasted on these DUI checkpoints, there's been no provable correlation at all as to the deterrent effect that they have,” said DUI Attorney Cole Casey. 

Casey said checkpoints are mostly money makers, especially for law enforcement agencies, which catch mostly unlicensed drivers, while looking for drunk drivers. 

“It makes law enforcement a lot of money and makes jails a lot of money and makes probation a lot of money,” Casey said. 

A lot of money is spent to staff sobriety checkpoints. Records show San Diego Police spent $2.3 million on DUI checkpoints since 2012. A breakdown of that money shows that San Diego Police spent more than $1,500 for every person arrested for DUI during their checkpoints.

San Diego Police Officer John Perdue said it’s worth the price. “I think it's still a good means for us to do that.” 

The money used to staff checkpoints comes from grants issued by the Office of Traffic Safety (OTS). Since 2014, the OTS issued nearly $31-million dollars in grants to San Diego County law enforcement agencies. 

Perdue said it takes a lot of officers to put on the checkpoints and they're all paid overtime through OTS funding. Still, he said, “It's hard to say that they (DUI checkpoints) are a deterrent.” 

But Perdue said making DUI arrests is not the goal. 

“It's a common belief that checkpoints, we are out to arrest people. Believe it or not, the primary reason for the checkpoint is actually education.” Perdue said. 

Instead of checkpoints, which cause traffic and frustration for drivers, Casey believes more time should be spent on DUI Saturation Patrols, where trained officers look for people driving impaired. 

Perdue said only a fraction of the money they receive from the OTS is used for DUI checkpoints. He said it's also spent on saturation patrols, distracted driving enforcement, and pedestrian safety. 

The number of citations handed out at checkpoints is double the number of arrests, more than 5,200 issued in the last six years. The majority of those citations are for driving without or on a suspended license. 

Perdue said despite the low percentage of DUI arrests during the checkpoints, he believes they are worth the time and money. 

“I know it sounds a little cliché, but if we can reach just a handful of people then it is ultimately worth it.”

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