Editorial: DUI task forces done in public interest
About 30 people die in an impaired driving crash every day, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That is one every 48 minutes.
It’s a horrifying figure but considerably less grim than 30 years ago when it was one death every 15 minutes.
We know that people pay attention to the deaths and the dangers in a way that they didn’t decades ago. The legal level for blood alcohol has been lowered over time to 0.08%. The penalties are more serious.
One of the tools to stem the bleeding has been the police checkpoint. Sometimes it’s random. Sometimes it’s on a day when police know drinking will be high. Police departments or task forces marshal efforts to stop drivers and check to see whether they are safe to be on the road.
A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling is locking the task force back in the toolbox. The May 31 decision in a case involving a 2013 Robinson checkpoint and the West Hills DUI Task Force says that every participating municipality has to pass an ordinance allowing their officers to participate.
The task forces have been in use for years, and hundreds of arrests have been made. PennDOT says there are 51 in Pennsylvania and no ordinances are known to have been passed to permit their officers to participate.
But just weeks away from Independence Day, one of those big alcohol consumption holidays, things are on hold. While individual departments can still address impaired driving, they can’t have the coordinated effort until the ordinances are handled, and that takes time.
Councils and boards can’t just retroactively rubber-stamp past practice. An ordinance has to be proposed, and drafted, and reviewed by a solicitor, and advertised, and opened for public comment, and voted on. And that’s just the steps if there are no objections and changes. It can take months. Do it wrong and everything is nullified.
It isn’t that police statewide were acting without authority. The task forces were conducted under the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act, but the court says it should have been done under the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act.
The police act allows things like interdepartmental cooperation in emergencies. That’s important and doesn’t allow time for a meeting and a hearing. When a murderer crosses a municipality’s border during a chase, one department doesn’t have to give up and go home. They have a duty to protect.
The court should have recognized best practice moving forward, but acknowledged a compelling public interest in proceeding until those bureaucratic boxes were checked off. Every impaired driver on the road is potentially one of those 30 deaths a day.