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Drunken Drivers Beware

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Fairfax County police officers have operated at least one sobriety checkpoint per week since July 11 as part of the regional Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Along with the campaign, DWI (driving while intoxicated) coordinator Jerry Stemler, under Capt. J.F. Bowman of the Traffic Division, conducted the Checkpoint Strikeforce program so checkpoints are operated more efficiently.

“We enhanced what the Strikeforce program is all about,” said Bowman.

Through the program, checkpoints are centrally organized through the Traffic Division and staffed by the Patrol Bureau rather than by district police stations. Officers from each of the eight district stations come together under one supervisor to operate a checkpoint, along with from two to four auxiliary officers.

"It's a lot more compatible with the stations," said Stemler. "It allows us to be flexible with our checkpoints and allows us to run at least one checkpoint in the county every week."

The flexibility of the program also allows checkpoints to be operated more frequently during times of higher risk, such as holidays.

The Checkpoint Strikeforce program was developed after almost a decade of analyzing how to operate checkpoints more efficiently. The DWI office analyzed problems with budgeting and especially staffing of checkpoints.

"The point was it was a strain on the management of their personnel on the district level," said Stemler.

Before the program, one district station would use eight to 10 of its own officers to operate a checkpoint.

"Eight stations lessens the impact on them [district stations] and their staffing needs," said Bowman.

Previously, the station would plan enough in advance that officers would adjust their schedules for the checkpoints to have enough staffing, but complications would arise, such as sickness.

"Drawing one person from each station makes it a lot simpler," said Officer Denise O'Neill of the Traffic Division.

Fairfax police officers kicked off the Checkpoint Strikeforce program by operating a sobriety checkpoint on Lee Highway and Union Mill on July 11. They screened 737 vehicles and made seven DWI arrests.

Since the program began three weeks ago, police officers have screened 3,030 vehicles and have made 18 DWI arrests.

Having a checkpoint once a week allows the police to cover more of Fairfax County's 400 square miles. Each area of the county then has a checkpoint about once every two months.

The Traffic Division's goal and the purpose of the checkpoints is to "reduce the number of fatalities, personal injuries, and property damage collisions" said Bowman. Furthermore, Bowman hoped that the checkpoints will change unsafe driver behavior and drivers' expectations of Fairfax County.

"One of the goals of the checkpoint is not only to apprehend a person DWI but to educate the public," said Lt. Butch Gamble of Franconia District station. "The key component of the checkpoint that people often overlook is the education, and awareness provided to the public to deter."

Fairfax County Police conducted its first checkpoint New Year's Eve of 1991. It did two massive checkpoints a year and required 20 to 30 officers to operate on heavily traveled streets. The county eventually increased to 25 checkpoints a year around 1995.

Meanwhile, the Traffic Division experimented with the smaller district checkpoints, which require a base of only eight officers, one supervisor and from two to four auxiliary police officers. The division found district checkpoints to be "more efficient, more frequent, and more effective," said Stemler. The division currently organizes district checkpoints for the Checkpoint Strikeforce program.