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KC police switch to patrols instead of checkpoints for St. Patrick’s Day drunk driving enforcement

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- You'll see thousands of people pack the bars, restaurants and streets of Kansas City this weekend to celebrate St.Patrick's Day. But what you won't see in KC? Checkpoints.

“St. Patrick's Day is basically the biggest day of the year for us, being an Irish affiliated pub," said Chris Bailey, managing partner for O'Dowds Gastropub on the Plaza. "Just throw a whole week of sales in one day. We actually start prep for it in January."

Bars and restaurants will be packed with patrons, and police expect to be slammed with work as well.

“St. Patrick's Day is one of our days where we have the highest number of DUI fatalities,” said Sgt. Christopher Betch, supervisor of the KCPD DUI unit.

In 2017, Kansas City police made 65 DUI arrests on St. Patrick’s Day weekend alone. Many of these drunk drivers were contacted at checkpoints.

“Some of those individuals invariably would have crashed and not made it home and would have hurt themselves or others to include killing somebody,” Betch said.

But this year, for the first time in at least three decades, you won't see checkpoints in Kansas City on St.Patrick’s Day.

In July, a new budget took affect, cutting $19 million in federal funds from Missouri law enforcement agencies, forcing many to shift from checkpoints to saturation patrols.

“So what's that mean for this year? I don't know. I don`t know what our results will look like this year. It`s the first time we've done exclusively saturation patrols on St.Patrick’s Day,” Betch said.

One of the biggest differences between a checkpoint and a saturation patrol is the amount of time involved with each procedure. At a checkpoint, it might take an officer 15 minutes to arrest and process a drunk driver and then get back out on the street.

Making that same arrest during a saturation patrol could take hours.

“When we’re doing a checkpoint, we have a number of officers on the line and again, very brief moment to where we talk to the driver," Betch said. "We’re trying not to inconvenience people. We check a high volume of cars, so when we stop somebody, unless we see something very obvious, you’re on your way."

Betch compared checkpoints to assembly lines. The same can't be said for saturation patrol.

“That's how we can process 41 people in six hours," he said. "You compare that to how a saturation patrol works: A police officer and his or her partner drive around, see somebody who appears to be intoxicated driving, pulls them over. It could be an hour and a half to two hours before they're back on the street, looking for another drunk. In a six hour period, generally we`re lucky if we can get two.”

And that means more drunk drivers could slip through the cracks this year and make it onto area roads and highways.

“It`s a preventable crime, and that's the worst part of this and why it's especially frustrating not to be able to have every effective strategy available, is it is absolutely a preventable crime,” Betch said.