DWI 'saturation patrols' paid for by feds yield mixed resultsBy MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader
July 03. 2018 9:30AM
Two of the six New Hampshire State Police troop stations undertook a first-ever effort this past weekend. They conducted “saturation patrols” around two communities, putting troopers and police on roads and highways to scout for impaired drivers — an alternative to the long-standing, sometimes criticized practice of sobriety checkpoints.
In the Greater Manchester area, troopers stopped 80 cars and undertook 10 field sobriety tests. They made no arrests.
“It’s nice to see people weren’t out there drinking enough to be arrested, but it makes you wonder if you’re missing something,” said Lt. Bryan Trask, the head of the Bedford-based Troop B, which coordinated the Manchester area patrol. He said six troopers concentrated on Interstates 93, 293 and Route 101.
In the Dover-Somersworth area, state and local police made eight arrests overnight Friday, including three for driving while impaired and three for driving after license suspension. They issued seven traffic citations.
“We thought we’d give (saturation patrols) a shot, change it up a bit,” said Lt. John Hennessey, who oversees the Epping-based Troop A, which includes the Seacoast and Dover areas. “It was the beginning of the summer, the weather was hot. (It was) a good time to do it.”
Both patrols ran from 9 p.m. Friday to 3 a.m. Saturday. Both involved troopers working overtime shifts that were paid for through federal highway grants.
For years, state officials have used National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) dollars to fund DWI sobriety checkpoints.
They have drawn criticism. Free State Project members picket Manchester checkpoints, urging drivers away from them. The New Hampshire Union Leader has reported the high costs and few arrests associated with Manchester police checkpoints.
And in February, the New Hampshire House passed legislation to outlaw sobriety checkpoints. The bill died in the Senate.
The most recent round of NHTSA funding for New Hampshire allows for checkpoints, saturation patrols or individual shifts devoted to DWI enforcement, state police Capt. William Haynes said.
The state police troop commander or local police chief decides which tactic to use, Haynes said.
Notice must be given
State police continue to see a value in checkpoints, but they do not expect many arrests as a result, he said. Police have long maintained that pre-checkpoint publicity and the strong police presence in a checkpoint area discourage drinking and driving.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court requires state police to issue notices before sobriety checkpoints. Likewise, both Troop A and Troop B issued notices before Friday’s saturation patrol.
Trask said he believed some Manchester-area media publicized the notice, which could have played a factor in the zero number of arrests.
The Seacoast effort involved more law enforcement officers — eight troopers, two Dover officers and one Somersworth officer. And they did not confine themselves to the highways. Police and troopers patrolled both local streets and the Spaulding Turnpike, Hennessey said.
“I think these guys and girls who sign up for saturation patrol, they’re very good at what they do. It gives a better opportunity to apprehend an impaired driver,” he said.
Hennessey said he likes checkpoints, but there is no rhyme or reason to the results. A Seacoast checkpoint last year resulted in 12 arrests in Seabrook, eight for impaired driving, but a checkpoint in Portsmouth resulted in little activity.
He said Troop A has contacted Seacoast-area police departments to conduct another saturation patrol, likely before Labor Day.
At Troop B — which includes Manchester, Nashua and Milford — Trask said two more saturation patrols are likely in the near future.