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Senator Pushes for Wisconsin Sobriety Checkpoints

By Andrew Mishlove on April 18, 2013


Wisconsin is one of the few states in the nation that does not allow police to establish sobriety checkpoints. Now, one state Senator is working to change that.

Senator Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) is pushing for legislation that would give police departments across the state the option of using sobriety checkpoints to combat drunk driving.

However, some lawmakers have deep reservations about such a bill, including Neenah Representative Dean Kaufert, saying sobriety checkpoints could establish bad precedent. He told Fox 6 Now that currently police “have to have reasonable suspicion to stop you, they have to have reasonable suspicion. You kinda lose that with sobriety checkpoints and that worries some people about where we’re going to go from there.”

Sobriety Checkpoints Infringe on Civil Liberties

Unlike Carpenter, who feels that allowing police to randomly stop vehicles on public roads does not infringe on the rights of drivers, Kaufert calls the checkpoints an “infringement on civil liberties,” the Green Bay Post Gazette reports, and says the “Legislature is not ready for checkpoints.”

Carpenter remains undeterred, explaining to the Gazette that such a law “might send a signal to some people.” He told reporters that he isn’t against alcohol, he just doesn’t want a person to be able to drink and then use their car “as a weapon.”

The Cost of Sobriety Checkpoints and Wisconsin Resistance While Carpenter and other debate whether sobriety checkpoints are good for Wisconsin, the regional program manager for the Bureau of Transportation Safety, Michael Panosh told the Gazette that the cost of sobriety checkpoints is a factor that should not be overlooked.

“Checkpoints are very expensive because they require a lot of manpower,” he said. “People can debate the fairness of checkpoints, but it must be realized that they are expensive.”

On the other hand, Panosh, who oversees several drunk driving task forces, says checkpoints “would work well with the task force model, given the number of people out there.”

However, as Neenah Police Chief Kevin Wilkinson discovered in 2009, when he tried to get the city to conduct voluntary checkpoints that would allow motorists to bypass the checkpoint if they did not show signs of impairment, Wisconsin isn’t interested in checkpoints of any type.

Wilkinson told Gazette reporters that there was a time he was optimistic about sobriety checkpoints, but “[t]here tends to be a lot of resistance or suspicion about government intrusion. At this point, I don’t think the climate is conducive to that occurring.” Despite Carpenter’s efforts, Wilkinson said he does expect Wisconsin to allow checkpoints anytime in the near future.

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