What roadblocks? Confusion over new rules results in fewer checkpoints

File Photo Barbourville Police and other law enforcement agencies used to routinely perform traffic checkpoints looking for lawbreakers.
File Photo
Barbourville Police and other law enforcement agencies used to routinely perform traffic checkpoints looking for lawbreakers.

If you have noticed a lack of roadblocks this year from local and state police, you are not alone.

Following a ruling by the Kentucky Supreme Court, police officers now have refined rules when establishing a roadblock, also known as a checkpoint. In the case of the Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Billy Cox, the Court of Appeals found the Martin County roadblock unconstitutional, clearing Cox of all charges that resulted from the roadblock. This case has set the stage for all DUI checkpoints in Kentucky. Officers and citizens arebecoming more aware of the current checkpoint law.

According to Jeremy Rogers, an attorney with Dinsmore and Shohl, it is at the discretion of individual police agencies to determine how to move forward with checkpoints. One of the overturning factors in the Commonwealth v. Cox case was “the amount of notice that the law enforcement [gave] to motorists,” according to Rogers.

Now, many law enforcement agencies are turning to the media to advertise when a checkpoint will be set up. However, Rogers states law enforcement are not required by law to do this.

“I’m not seeing anything that requires police to do any advertising,” said Rogers.

Another way agencies can comply is by putting up signage a few miles down the road to alert motorists of an upcoming checkpoint. This would give drivers the chance to not go through the checkpoint, thus avoiding “entrapment.”

According to Kentucky State Police Public Affairs Officer Shane Jacobs, checkpoints are not set up to trap motorists, however. Instead, they are “conducted in an effort to enforce the traffic laws of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Special attention is paid to occupant protection (seatbelt adherence), sobriety, insurance and registration violations.”

While the Kentucky Supreme Court ruling caused quite the upset in some communities, Jacobs states the changes are no different than what Post 10 of Harlan was already following for their checkpoints.

“It’s not different than what we’ve been doing. There are no main differences in how officers road check,” said Jacobs.

When conducting a checkpoint, KSP officers must have supervisor approval, must have their blue lights visible for so many feet and must not set up a checkpoint in any curves. KSP must also alert motorists of all scheduled checkpoints, but they do not have to release the exact time or location a checkpoint will occur. 

“We now notify media through email or press release that we will be periodically check pointing at certain locations during the month,” continued Jacobs. “We give every location for Knox County.”

Knox County Sheriff Mike Smith agrees that the changes have not made a huge impact on his deputies or their rate of catching traffic offenses. 

“We’ve not seen any changes or differences. Now, we will announce roadblocks in the paper,” said Sheriff Smith, who has opted to announce his roadblocks through the media.

However, Barbourville City Police Chief Winston Tye says the law is still ambiguous and his department is working adamantly to revise their own checkpoint policy.

“Once you have a ruling like that, it goes down to everyone. We are right now in the process of fixing our policy on checkpoints. It’s still open-ended on what we actually have to do,” said Chief Tye.

In the meantime, Barbourville Police are not conducting any checkpoints but they do hope to resume them in the upcoming months.

“We’ve arrested a lot of people at road checks and it has cut down on our impaired drivers. We were road checking quite often in the city and we had three or four hot spots. Right now, we aren’t doing anything,” concluded Chief Tye.

As of press time, Smith does not have any roadblocks scheduled. He did comment “if there’s a need in the community, we will establish one.”

For a complete list of traffic safety checkpoints at locations approved by the Kentucky State Police Policy and Procedures Manual, visit http://www.kentuckystatepolice.org/posts/press/post10_checkpoints.html.