DCSIMG
Jefferson County Sheriff's Office
Jefferson County, Colorado

Highly Mobile
Sobriety Checkpoints

This is a image that shows the location of Jefferson County, Colorado as it would appear on a map.


Distinguishing Features

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office routinely conducts roving patrols dedicated to DUI enforcement, but the most distinguishing feature of the agency's program is the frequent deploy­ment of high-mobility/low-staffing-level sobriety checkpoints, following procedures derived from previous NHTSA field studies and experimental evaluations.

Setting

Image of rural area with a fence and plants. Image of a river in Colorado.

Jefferson County, Colorado, consists of 774 square miles located just west of Denver, where the Great Plains rise majestically to become the Rocky Mountains. The major population centers of the county are located on the broad expanse of elevated plain and in the foothills of the Front Range, but Jefferson County consists mostly of mountainous terrain and includes portions of Pike, Roosevelt, and Arapaho National Forests. Reports of gold in the nearby streams of Pike's Peak brought prospectors to the area beginning in 1858, then coal was discovered. The prospectors were followed by miners and later by settlers who built ranches and farms in the area. There are eight cities within the county, the largest of which are Lakewood (population 143,000) and Arvada (100,000); 85 percent of the county is unincorporated and home to 185,000 of Jefferson County's 530,000 residents. The county was once an agricultural and mining area, but now is a thriving suburban, business, industrial, and residential center; it is the location of the Colorado School of Mines, the Coors Brewery, the Denver Federal Center, and several tourist attractions. Jefferson County also serves as a gateway to the spectacular beauty of the Rocky Mountains and maintains nearly 200 miles of hiking trails that attract visitors from all over the world.

Background / Planning Process

Image shows a city road at night with a welcoming sign.

Prior to 2003, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office usually conducted one large sobriety check­point each year. It was a difficult task to assemble the 45 to 65 officers and support staff from several local agencies to conduct the checkpoints, and although local managers recognized the merits of checkpoints, they were not very supportive because of the costs involved and public perceptions of such large operations. Then, three children were killed in separate crashes in the county during the first few weeks of 2003 and several DUI crashes occurred in local cities. During this period, a sergeant of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office was inspired by a presentation at a traffic safety meeting and, in response, proposed to conduct a series of sobriety check-points that would be operated by far fewer officers than the agency's customary approach, and the check­points would be moved from one location to another several times during each deployment. The managers of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office gave their approval.

I attended a meeting where the guest speaker, Randall Smith, founder of the Tennessee Check­point Program, spoke about conducting checkpoints with fewer than the usual number of offi­cers and for briefer durations, and moving them from one location to another. Randall Smith inspired me to think about how we could conduct similar checkpoints, which would be more efficient and could be conducted in mountainous areas where we have a substantial DUI prob­lem. Shortly after this meeting, a crash occurred that resulted in the death of four young juve­niles, all students from a nearby high school in the southern part of Jefferson County; alcohol was determined to be the cause. The press coverage was extensive, as you might imagine. I spoke about the crash with the CDOT coordinator, Lanney Holmes, on several occasions and he encouraged me to look again at these smaller checkpoints. I agreed and two weeks later we conducted the first of what we call “hit and run” checkpoints. Although Lanney wanted me to conduct it on a Friday or Saturday night I was skeptical, having never seen this type of operation before. Instead, I elected to experiment with the concept on a Thursday night and on the quietest streets I could find to see if we could actually move the operation around and be effective. I recruited about 15 officers and three supervisors from three different agencies to help. We pulled into our first location and were surprised to find news reporters, cameras, and lights everywhere; it appeared that Lanney had spread the word. We set up within ten minutes and were underway. Within 15 minutes we already had two DUIs and I was sold. We continued the checkpoint for about two hours then moved to another nearby location. We didn't find any DUIs there; however, people came out of their houses to see what all the flashing lights were about. The officers were delighted with the success of the first checkpoint of the evening and spoke freely to the residents about why we were there. The public's extremely positive response was gratifying and gave us all further encouragement to proceed. We continued at that location for another hour or so, then moved the checkpoint again. The third location scared me a little because the volume of traffic was greater than expected and we have had many DUI crashes on that stretch of highway over the past several years. The highway leads to one of the gambling communities in the mountains, about 18 miles away. We pulled up, deployed the equipment, and within about an hour we had made an additional eight DUI arrests. I had to shut the checkpoint down because we had run out of personnel to operate it safely. We have grown in experience, become more knowledgeable, and refined the procedures since then. However, we conduct the sobriety check­points now in about the same way as we did on that first night of experimentation.

– Sergeant Robert Vette, Jefferson County Sheriff's Office

Special Enforcement Methods

Beginning in 2003, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office has conducted a series of mobile sobriety checkpoints. Deputies deploy quickly, shutting down traffic for fewer than 15 minutes while they set up the signs and cone patterns. They then open the checkpoint and contact the drivers of every vehicle in the approach lane, informing them of recent DUI crashes in the area and checking for visible signs of impairment; contacts are brief, usually fewer than 30 seconds. The checkpoint is operated in this manner for about two hours, then quickly moved to another location for a two-hour deployment, then to a third location. Representatives from other Colorado agencies frequently observe JCSO checkpoints with the intention of conducting similar operations. The Jeffer­son County Sheriff's Office also has developed a six-person checkpoint for quick deployment in problem neighbor­hoods or mountainous areas.

Map of Jefferson County.

JCSO sobriety checkpoints usually are staffed by at least three on-site supervisors. One supervisor is designated the line supervisor (where the officers make contact with drivers). The line supervisor is responsible for ensuring that the officers are safe, acting appropriately, and adhering to the operational plan; the line supervisor also monitors traffic flow and serves as backup for the line officer in the event of an emergency. Although the operational supervisor will make any announcement about the “flushing of the pattern” (allowing vehicles to proceed without contacting the drivers) it is the line supervisor who must ensure that the pattern is “flushed” expeditiously and who alerts the operational supervisor when the pattern can return to normal operation.

Image of a sheriff vehicle and a road blocked for sobriety checks.

A second supervisor is assigned to the processing area. This supervisor's responsibilities are again to ensure the safety of the officers and motorists and that information about everyone entering the processing area is collected and recorded appropriately. This supervisor also assists the line officer by ordering trucks to tow violators' vehicles, completing the tow slips, and coordinating vehicle searches. This support from the supervisor allows the line officer to focus attention on the violator and return to the contact position on the line as quickly as possible.

The third supervisor is designated as the operational supervisor and is responsible for planning and coordinating all aspects of the checkpoint. The operational supervisor monitors safety issues, ensures that everyone performs their tasks in accordance with the operational plan, and serves as back up to any of the other supervisors during periods of heavy workload. During lowstaffing level checkpoints, all personnel have at least two jobs, a primary and a secondary assignment.

 


Frequency of Operations / Duration of Program

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office conducts dedicated DUI patrols on every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night of the year (between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.); these special DUI patrols are in addition to 24 to 37 deputies on normal patrol duty each night. Also, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office con­ducts at least one checkpoint each month during the winter and at least two checkpoints each month during the spring and summer, usually deploying during the same hours as the dedicated DUI patrols. The agency conducted more than 40 checkpoints In May 2003 and June 2004. The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office conducts dedicated DUI patrols on every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night of the year (between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.); these special DUI patrols are in addition to 24 to 37 deputies on normal patrol duty each night. Also, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office con­ducts at least one checkpoint each month during the winter and at least two checkpoints each month during the spring and summer, usually deploying during the same hours as the dedicated DUI patrols. The agency conducted more than 40 checkpoints In May 2003 and June 2004.

Participation

Officer riding on police motorcycle.

At least two Jefferson County Sheriff's Office deputies who specialize in DUI enforcement conduct the routine weekend DUI patrols. They focus their special enforcement on approximately 10 square mile areas of the county at a time. The agency's mobile sobri­ety checkpoints are staffed by 6 to 25 deputies or officers from municipal police departments working together. The number of officers needed to conduct a checkpoint safely is determined by the char­acteristics of the location.

Public Awareness / Program Visibility

The high-visibility, special enforcement operations are preceded by press releases and the distribution of educational information to increase public awareness of the program. In addition, the Jefferson County deputies created posters that list the approximate costs of a DUI arrest then distributed them to DMV Offices, schools, and alcohol programs as part of the agency's ongoing outreach activities. The posters also were distributed to every establishment in the county that sells alcoholic beverages, with the intention of reinforcing the agency's aggressive approach to overserving at bars. The deputies had conducted frequent visits to bars to inform operators that overserving is not tolerated. Then they began asking every person arrested for DUI, whether at a checkpoint or during a saturation or normal patrol, where the person had been drinking. If the person specifies a bar within the jurisdiction, the back-up deputy or officer later visits the bar to obtain the names of the servers, doorman, and other personnel; the information is provided to the agency's Intelligence Unit, which is responsible for investigating liquor license establishments. In response to a deputy's visit, the owners of a bar recently had glasses made with the JCSO's DUI cost poster printed on them. They use the glasses to serve nonalcoholic drinks to customers who appear to be approaching inebriation.

 

Image of red and white flyer sent out with crime tip preventive measures.

One of many “Crime Prevention Tips” distributed by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.

Editor: I want to thank the officers who were out this past Friday night on Highway 74 by the Evergreen Nursery. My friend and I were driving back from Morrison to Evergreen when we were surprised to see so many patrol cars and officers out on a cold, snowy night to check for drunk drivers. I think it was great! We passed through the checkpoint just fine, but you never know who could be driving while impaired right behind us. So, again I thank the officers for being there and looking out for our safety.

– Laura Smith, Evergreen

 

Image of green, black and white poster encouraging public awareness.

Public awareness poster developed by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.

Funding

The Colorado Department of Transportation administers the Colorado Law Enforcement Assistance Fund (LEAF), an effective and uniquely appropriate means for supporting efforts to counter drinking and driving. Approximately $90 from each DWI/DUI fine paid in Colorado is allocated to LEAF for disbursement to municipal and county law enforcement agencies in the form of grants to help support DWI enforcement activities. More than $20 million in LEAF grants have been awarded since the program began in 1984. Two of the criteria for receiving LEAF grants are that an agency must have at least 80 percent of its officers trained in SFST administration, and the agency must conduct SFST refresher training according to the State standard. The special enforcement and education programs conducted by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office are partially funded by Colorado LEAF grants, but most of the support is provided by the residents of Jefferson County.

Lessons Learned

The principal programmatic lessons identified by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office are presented in three categories. The first concerns some of the obstacles that were encountered and the actions taken in response, followed by a discussion of the features that are believed to contribute to the success of the program. Specific sug­gestions from the organizers of the program are presented third.

Obstacles

Image of a man driving a truck being pulled over by officers, poster.

Acceptability.
Some of the police managers in Jefferson County resisted participating in the check­points at first, believing that it was necessary to commit large numbers of officers to an operation and that more DUI arrests could be made if the resources were devoted to roving patrols. In response, Sergeant Vette invited all of the metro agencies in the county to observe a mobile sobriety checkpoint. The experience convinced most of the police managers of the tactic's feasibility and merit. The ser­geant then arranged for a checkpoint to be conducted in one of the cities that continued to question the method; the deputies and officers made 16 DUI and three other arrests in the first hour and 45 minutes of operation. That city became one of the most active supporters of the program, which now includes all law enforcement agencies within Jefferson County.


Relations with the Courts and DMV.
Depart­ment of Motor Vehicle (DMV) hearings resulting from DUI arrests made at sobriety check­points had been frustrating for some deputies. In response, Sergeant Vette invited the chief DMV hearing officer to a checkpoint and explained the procedures thoroughly. The hearing officer was impressed with the operation, became a strong advocate, and now teaches at JCSO academies and provides in-service training concerning relevant legal issues.

Program Strengths

Among the strengths of the program are the variety of special enforcement tac­tics used by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. In addition to the routine roving DUI patrols, the agency occasionally conducts traditional, high-staffing-level sobriety checkpoints, but most operations are highly mobile and staffed by a minimum number of personnel. The checkpoints are particularly effective because the procedures have been developed specifically for the local conditions (i.e., city streets, major arterials, mountain roads, cold weather). Additional strengths are access to Colorado's LEAF program and the technical support and encouragement provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation. Perhaps most important, the program benefits from the sergeant's hands-on leadership and the support provided by the managers of the Jef­ferson County Sheriff's Office.

Suggestions From the Program Organizers

Supply Food and Water.
Jefferson County encompasses a lot of territory, so officers and deputies often are unfamiliar with the area selected for a sobriety checkpoint, especially in the mountains. They might only know how to find the local jail or their way back to their own jurisdictions. Sergeant Vette discovered that if you allow these officers to depart the location for dinner, they may never find there way back to the checkpoint. The low-staffing-level approach compounds the problem because there are no extra personnel to fill in if traffic becomes busy while an officer is trying to find something to eat. Also, there may not be restaurants or stores open during checkpoint hours, especially in the mountains and in small communities. For these reasons, the sergeant suggests that it is more effective to supply some sort of food for the participants at the checkpoint location (e.g., pizza, coffee, sodas, water). He advises that officers will want something hot to drink during the winter checkpoints and an abundance of water at all checkpoints, but especially those conducted during the summer.

Supervisors must monitor performance closely to ensure safety.
Summertime checkpoints require attention to safety issues, but the burden on supervisors is much greater when conducting checkpoints during the winter due to the additional risk factors associated with cold weather. When temperatures approach freezing, it is important to remind all personnel that they must use periods of low traffic volume to periodically retreat to their vehicles for warmth. This is usually the officers' opportunity to eat, as well. Officers will sit in a warm car for 15 minutes, or until the traf­fic begins to increase, then exit and immediately receive a cold blast of frigid air on their way back to the contact point where they can become severely chilled while waiting for approaching vehicles. It is during these periods when the supervisors must be especially vigilant. The sergeant suggests that when officers begin to shiver you may want to switch to saturation patrol and release the officers who are too cold to function safely. Supervisors must be aware that temperatures can drop quickly and they must take immediate action to ensure the safety of the officers and public. For these reasons, the number of supervisors assigned to a checkpoint should be doubled during the winter.

Highway conditions also must be monitored closely during winter checkpoints. Conditions can change frequently and quickly. Many snowplows have the capability to measure the temperature of the highway surface; the operational supervisor should be in frequent contact with road crews to ensure that the condition of the highway will allow motorists to slow down and stop prior to entering the cone pattern that defines the checkpoint. Ice will form when the surface temperature drops below 30 degrees in the presence of moisture of any kind (snow, rain, sleet). During these conditions, the cone pattern should be lengthened and narrowed. A narrow cone pattern will force motorists to slow down and if icing occurs, the officers will begin to see the cones falling as drivers attempt to maintain lane position with poor traction. This would be a good time to close the checkpoint for the night. High winds that knock cones over and light­ning in the area are other reasons to interrupt or discontinue the operation. Everyone working a sobriety checkpoint during the winter should remain vigilant of changing environmental conditions.

It is reasonable to ask why the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office conducts sobriety checkpoints under what might be described as extreme environmental conditions. The answer is that the program organizers believe it is important to conduct check­points in all weather conditions in order to obtain the maximum general deterrence effect. In Sergeant Vette's words, “We want motorists to know that we conduct check­points during all seasons of the year and under all environmental conditions. It sends the message to the public that we are committed to our mission.”

Caravan to the location of the checkpoint.
All personnel and vehicles should travel together in a caravan to the locations of large checkpoints (15 to 35 officers). Personnel and equipment arriving at a site simultaneously minimizes the time required to set up the cone patterns, deploy the signs, establish processing areas, and ensure that an exit is provided prior to entering the approach lane. The caravan also reduces the possibility of someone becoming lost en route to a distant or unfamiliar location.

Traveling to a sobriety checkpoint in a caravan can be dangerous. With equipment trucks and trailers, generators for lighting, variable messaging signs in tow, and several patrol vehicles, the caravan may be as long as a mile and quite a sight with the patrol vehicles' emergency lights in operation. The caravan causes motorists to stop and watch the display, which contributes to public awareness of the special enforcement effort. Occasionally, a vehicle in the caravan must reduce speed and, although the caravans move slowly, rear-end crashes can occur if the drivers of following vehicles do not react quickly. For this reason, all drivers in the caravan should be warned before departing that they must be prepared to stop at any time.

Caravans are not necessary when conducting low-staffing-level checkpoints (6 to 8 officers). Fewer items of equipment are needed and usually all of it can be transported to the checkpoint site in the patrol vehicles.

Document everything.
It is recommended that all law enforcement agencies involved in a checkpoint retain copies of the operation plans, briefing sheets, and the diagrams that were presented at the operations briefing prior to deployment. The plans and diagrams should be incorporated in all DUI arrest reports resulting from the operation. This helps the prosecutors to determine the type of case and verifies that the checkpoint was conducted properly. The operational supervisor should maintain a file of all original documents to serve as backups if anyone misplaces a report, and to send a set to the local prosecutor. Finally, inform the District Attorney's Office of planned sobriety check­points and invite the staff to attend to personally observe the operation.

Evidence of Program Effects

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office began its sobriety checkpoint program in June 2003 in response to an inordinate number of fatal crashes early in the year. Only data concerning fatal crashes Is available at this time for 2004, the first full year of the special enforcement program. The following table presents the numbers of fatal crashes in Jefferson County for the years 2001 through 2004 and the numbers of fatal crashes in all other counties of Colorado, combined, for the years 2001 through 2003. The following figure illustrates the 31 percent decline in the number of fatal crashes in Jefferson County during 2004.

Numbers of Fatal Crashes in Jefferson County and in All of Colorado: 2001 - 2004

2001

2002

2003

2004

Jefferson County

54

39

48

33

Colorado (minus Jefferson County)

682

704

584

n/a

Data Source: Colorado Department of Transportation.

Chart showing the fatal crashes in Jefferson County and in Colorado 2001-2004.

The following table presents the total numbers of fatal crashes in Jefferson County and the subsets of those in which alcohol was involved in the years 2001 through 2004. The accompanying figure compares the combined totals for the years 2001 and 2002 to the combined totals for the years 2003 and 2004. Crash data by month Is not available and because the checkpoint program was implemented in June 2003, the totals for the program period necessarily include crashes from the first six months of 2003 (i.e., before the program began). Nevertheless, the table and figure reveal substantial declines in both the numbers of fatal crashes and alcohol-related fatal crashes in Jefferson County during the 2-year period that includes the first 18 months of the special enforcement program.

Numbers of Fatal Crashes and Alcohol-Related Fatal Crashes
in Jefferson County: 2001 - 2004

2001

2002

2003

2004

All Fatal Crashes

54

39

48

33

Alcohol-Related Fatal Crashes

31

13

20

16

 

Chart showing the fatal crashes in Jefferson County 2001-2002 combined compared to 2003 & 2004 combined.
Contacts

Sergeant Bob Vette
Directed Operations Unit
Jefferson County Sheriff's Office
200 Jefferson County Parkway
Golden, CO 80401-2697
303-271-5653
rvette@jeffco.us

Jefferson County sheriff seal.