Department releases report on sobriety checkpoint

The Seymour Police Department arrested six people as a result of a sobriety checkpoint in the 1000 block of East Tipton Street Saturday night into Sunday morning.

One person was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. That driver had a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 percent or greater, which is nearly twice the legal limit.

Two others were arrested for operating a vehicle while never receiving a driver’s license, one for driving while suspended, one for possession of marijuana and another for possession of marijuana and paraphernalia.

Nine citations were written, and seven warnings were issued.

Five standardized field sobriety tests were administered.

Sixteen officers worked the checkpoint, which was the first one the department has organized in 25 years, Capt. Carl Lamb said.

“We’re trying to make everyone safe,” Lamb said while standing at the checkpoint. “It could be my family member or yours out there that could be affected.”

The primary focus of the checkpoint was impaired driving, and Lamb hopes it makes motorists think twice before getting behind the wheel under the influence.

In 2017, the department made 79 arrests for operating a vehicle while intoxicated and investigated 20 wrecks as a result of impaired driving, according to data provided by the department.

The department’s three drug recognition experts were on hand to help detect alcohol and drug impairment quickly.

“It’s pretty intensive training, and they’re the best trained at recognizing someone that is impaired,” Lamb said of the officers.

As traffic drove on Tipton Street near Wendy’s and Pet Sense, every third motorist was waved into the parking lot in the strip mall south of the street.

From there, motorists would pull into the three lanes of the checkpoint, and officers introduced themselves before looking for signs of impairment.

A total of 645 cars passed through the area with 215 being detained.

Each interaction was timed by another officer with the goal of limiting stops to two minutes. Data from the checkpoint show the average interaction was 34 seconds.

If an officer suspected a motorist was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the clock would stop, and the procedure to determine whether the driver was impaired would begin.

Jackson County Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Chalfant approved the plan in advance and attended the checkpoint in case officers had legal questions.

Roger Phelps and his wife, Dawn, were some of the first motorists to go through the checkpoint. The two were part of a group of motorcyclists heading back to Rushville.

“I feel safer knowing this is here,” he said, adding he appreciated the department trying to prevent impaired driving. “As a motorcycle rider, I don’t want people on the road under the influence.”

Officers were paid overtime for working the checkpoint through a $3,000 grant from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.

“It takes a lot of work, and there’s a lot of planning involved,” Lamb said.

He and Lt. John Watson attended a six-hour training to help correctly implement the checkpoint program.

“Watson and I worked on this for three weeks in the planning phase, so there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that doesn’t include the checkpoint itself,” Lamb said.

He believes checkpoints are effective in curbing impaired driving.

“Even if we don’t make an arrest, I still think it works,” he said. “We got the public to talk about it, and fewer people will drive impaired.”

That’s a number Lamb said can’t be tracked.

“We will never know the number of people that made that decision,” he said. “We just hope they continue to.”

There has been some debate throughout the years about whether checkpoints are unconstitutional, and it has been a legal football in court decisions.

The most recent decision in 2002 was State v. Gerschoffer, which decided that checkpoints do not violate Indiana’s constitution when implemented properly with standards that are minimally intrusive.

The legal debate may continue, Lamb said, but the checkpoint’s goal is to educate and prevent motorists from driving impaired, not simply arresting drivers.

“It’s more educational, and we’re encouraging people not to drive impaired and to call the cab, call a friend or stay where you’re at,” Lamb said.