Holiday Saturation Enforcement Campaigns

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and it also ’tis the season for California Highway Patrol officers to keep an extra sharp lookout for people who are a little bit too jolly and/or are on the naughty list.

California law enforcement officers will participate in two STEP programs this December. First, there is the perennial “Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over” effort. This program has been in effect since the early 2000s, and usually cranks up around holidays traditionally associated with drinking and driving, such as Labor Day Weekend, New Year’s Eve, and Memorial Day Weekend.

The federal government gives states and localities money to fund saturation enforcement efforts during these times. Furthermore, effective October 1, 2016, the California Office of Traffic Safety rolled out the SIDE (Statewide Impaired Driving Enforcement) initiative. Local law enforcement agencies can apply for state grant money to fund roadside checkpoints, DUI patrols, and other advanced interventions.

In 2014, impaired California drivers killed 645 people and seriously injured more than 10,000 others. As a result, CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow vowed that “we will continue to do everything in our power to promote safety on California’s roadways.”

STEP Campaigns

Many law enforcement organizations employ Selective Traffic Enforcement Programs. These efforts nearly always have catchy names, like “Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over” and “Click It Or Ticket.” In fact, the Tombras Group, a Knoxville-based advertising firm, came up with both these nicknames. This same firm also handles the commercials that promote new products at McDonald’s, and they are the brains behind those “you don’t have to be a farmer to save money with Farm Bureau Insurance” advertisements. Many law enforcement officials believe that, in the social media/digital age, a catchy advertising campaign can be just as effective as officers on the street.

Another supporting theory is that high visibility in a certain area during a certain amount of time will not only result in a large number of arrests, but also permanently change driver behavior. The evidence on this point is uncertain, at best, but that fact does not prevent agencies from trying.

Most DUI enforcement campaigns consist of DUI patrols and sobriety checkpoints. Publishing heiress Patty Hearst, who is probably an authority in this area, once said that “there are people who look for trouble, and trouble is very easy to find when you go looking for it.” In a nutshell, that concept is the biggest weakness in DUI patrols. If their superiors instruct officers to go to a certain area at a certain time and arrest drivers for certain violations, that is what they will do. In addition to pressure from supervisors, there is financial pressure as well, because the DUI patrol must generate enough revenue to justify the expenditure on officer overtime and other program costs.

This is not to say that all DUI patrol officers are hopelessly biased. However, in borderline situations, the fact that the officer may have had an agenda could sway at least one juror one way or the other, and one juror with a reasonable doubt as to the evidence means that the defendant is not guilty.

Sobriety Checkpoints

Sobriety checkpoints have been legal since 1990. In previous decades, some departments operated random checkpoints, until the United States Supreme Court declared that roadside checkpoints violated the Fourth Amendment. These ad hoc checkpoints had almost no structure or organization, and may consist of little more than a few officers who decided to pull over cars at random to perform a “drivers’ license check.”

In 1990, the United States Supreme Court basically endorsed Ingersoll v. Palmer, a 1987 California Supreme Court decision. In 1984, the California Attorney General declared that roadside checkpoints were legal in the Golden State, and almost immediately thereafter, a checkpoint sprang up in Burlingame. Before officers set up the checkpoint, the department issued a series of guidelines that the California Supreme Court, and later the United States Supreme Court, adopted.

  • Visibility: Motorists must have sufficient opportunity to avoid the checkpoint if they so desire, so warning signs need to be up at least one or two exits ahead of the checkpoint.
  • No Officer Discretion: All administrative decisions, such as checkpoint location, hours of operation, and method used, must be made at the supervisory level and operating officers cannot deviate from these instructions under any circumstances.
  • Neutral Formula: Similarly, officers can have no discretion about which vehicles to stop and which ones to wave through. Typically, officers stop every third or fourth vehicle, to keep traffic moving.
  • Location: Supervisors may only place checkpoints in high-DUI areas. This issue came up in Chicago last year, after an investigation supposedly revealed that the Chicago Police Department set up checkpoints in predominantly black neighborhoods even though most DUI offenders are white.
  • Length: An eight to ten minute traffic delay and sixty or ninety second vehicle inspection are probably reasonable delays.

Law enforcement must also publish notice in advance. Such notice gives motorists another chance to avoid the checkpoint and also helps enhance the deterrent effect.

STEP campaigns have a direct effect on DUI cases. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in San Diego, contact the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC. Home and jail visits are available.