Converse County Sheriff’s Office, Wyoming
End of Watch: Thursday, July 28, 2011
Tour of Duty: Not available
Badge Number: Not available
Cause of Death: Drowned
Date of Incident: July 28, 2011
Weapon Used: Not available
Suspect Info: Not available
Deputy Sheriff Bryan Gross drowned in the North Platte River while attempting to save a teenage girl who had jumped into the river after fighting with her boyfriend.
Deputy Gross had responded to the scene and entered the water, which was swollen due to heavy snowmelt. The girl was pulled from the water by bystanders but Deputy Gross was swept away. His body was found four days approximately 1/2 mile from where he entered the river.
Agency Contact InformationConverse County Sheriff’s Office
107 N 5th Street
Douglas, WY 82633
Phone: (307) 358-4700
PANAMA CITY Fla Aug 1 2011 — He had a bigger and better gun than most SWAT team members, a formidable bulletproof vest and more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition, officials said last week
And if the man believed to be behind a recent murder-suicide had turned his eye toward the public, the consequences would have been uncalculable.
“We’re talking Norway or Fort Hood,” Maj. Tommy Ford said. “The capability was there to cause catastrophic death.”
Investigators said 50-year-old Galen Scott Suppes, a former prison guard, shot and killed his neighbor, 19-year-old Christopher James Ballard, shortly before killing himself July 23. Deputies were called out to the scene July 24 after Suppes’ family informed them that something was amiss.
When deputies searched his apartment, they found several items of concern, Ford said. They found a Springfield MIA SOCOM .308 with 36 magazines and a scope that could grant a decent shooter the ability to hit someone from 350 to 400 yards away.
“They would have stopping power out past that, but the accuracy wouldn’t be there,” Ford added.
The equipment allowed a shooter the ability to hang dozens of magazines on the vest and in their pockets. The magazines each hold 20 rounds, Ford said. That would mean regular law enforcement officers and SWAT team members would have a hard time taking a suspect down while he or she was trying to reload, Ford said.
“We would have been at a severe disadvantage had we interrupted the events of that evening,” Ford said.
Deputies also found Suppes had an embroidered black and white hat labeled “sheriff.” And while he was once a prison guard and, according to his family, served in the military, there is no indication Suppes ever worked at a sheriff’s office, Ford said.
“You can buy them at the mall,” Ford said of the hat.
Several times over the past few years local law enforcement officers have arrested imposters. It’s something they take seriously, Ford said.
“I guess anytime we see it happen it erodes the safety factor people should feel when they are dealing with law enforcement,” Ford said.
Then there was the body armor; it was thick enough to defeat rifle rounds, Ford said.
Ford and Sheriff Frank McKeithen stressed they wanted the public to know what law enforcement officers may face while on the job but do not support any change to the right of American citizens to bear arms.
“The sheriff is a big believer in the right to keep and bear arms and gun ownership,” Ford said. “It’s not the gun; it’s the people we may face.”
However, Ford did note that it is hard to get someone declared mentally incompetent and unable to purchase a gun. The court proceedings usually happen long after law enforcement and family members become aware of the problem, Ford said.
Ford suggested that members of the public should call law enforcement if they have a problem with their neighbor but only in the right circumstances.
“If they have a concern about a neighbor’s actions,” they should call, Ford said. “It’s his right to have a rifle.”
Police said in a release that 24-year-old shooting suspect Michael Arangio had barricaded himself Saturday inside a unit in The Resort at University Park complex.
Officers say they had attempted to talk Arangio into surrendering peacefully. They also tossed tear gas into the apartment, but he refused to leave.
A bomb squad robot sent into the unit after several hours discovered the man’s body, and police say they believe he shot himself.
Arangio is suspected in a shooting that left three teens dead Wednesday night.
Police had received a tip from his parents that he was in the complex.
Prince George County MD Aug 1 2011 When Prince George’s County police detectives first found Nancy Poore Tufts, she was sitting in an upholstered chair near her walker, staring out the window. She was looking, she told the detectives, at the remnants of a garden she had promised to maintain for her mother some 40 years ago.
Today, Tufts is 101. Her mother’s garden has long been buried beneath dense weeds and fallen trees. On Saturday, the two detectives who found Tufts — and several of their colleagues — descended on her Fort Washington home to clear the land and re-plant some of her mother’s garden.
“They’re angels,” Tufts said, gazing out her window after the work was done. “They just flew in to help me.”
Detectives Tammy Irons and Jennifer Ivy initially thought Tufts’s house was abandoned.
The two investigators, assigned to the Prince George’s County District 4 station, were probing a rash of burglaries and looking for places where crooks might store their loot. Tufts’s red brick mansion along the Potomac River seemed to fit the bill.
Long strands of green ivy blanketed the brick exterior, and leafy bushes covered in thick spider webs grew so high that they obscured some of the front windows. Knee-high grass covered the side yard and burst up through cracks in the driveway. The front door hung open.
The detectives went inside, calling out while they looked around. Dusty books, hand bells and Victorian figurines lined wooden tables and cabinets. Somewhere, the investigators thought they heard ‘40s music.
Then came Tufts’s call.
“Yoo-hoo!” the centenarian chirped from her seat beneath the window.
For about an hour, the detectives stood and talked to Tufts, learning about her history and the history of the mansion that has been designated a “Backyard Wildlife Habitat” by the National Wildlife Federation and a historic site by the county. They kept coming back over the next few weeks.
“It took me back in time,” Ivy said. “It was amazing.”
Born in London to American parents, Tufts’s family moved to Maryland in 1939, cutting a space for a house in Fort Washington out of land that was mostly woods. Tufts eventually earned several degrees, including a bachelor’s and master’s from Syracuse University, and worked as a music teacher. She said she is sometimes known as the “panda lady” because she lets National Zoo officials harvest bamboo from her property to feed the pandas.
“I could write a book with all the stuff I’ve done over the past 100 years,” Tufts said.
Tufts has no children, and her husband, also a music teacher, died decades ago. She lives mostly independently in her home, which has no air conditioning, and she uses a walker to get around. She has a black cat named Spooky Spaghetti and a long-haired dachshund named Sir Maximilian. She said she wanted a guard dog but ended up rescuing the deaf dachshund after it was abandoned by its previous owner.
The detectives said they were moved to help Tufts not because they felt she needed them, but because in frequent visits to her house, they grew to respect and admire her.
“We weren’t doing it for pity for her,” said Sgt. Matt Barba, who is among those who have grown close with Tufts. “We were more doing it for praise.”
Tufts is quick-witted, even sarcastic at times. When Irons asked if Tufts wanted her to put an ice pack in the freezer, Tufts stuck her tongue out and playfully responded “Well, what, do you want it in the oven?” As she posed for a picture with Barba, she joked, “Oh boy, wait until your wife sees this!”
She is also well-read and in touch with current events. She inquired Saturday whether a reporter interviewing her worked for Rupert Murdoch, who she thinks is “really getting bad press.” She had scribbled “Gossip!” on two copies of Newsweek which advertised an interview with Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s accuser.
Tufts waited inside while detectives trimmed the bushes that blocked her windows and plowed a path through the dense brush that had overrun her garden. She seemed to be asleep while Ivy and Irons filled planters with red and purple perennials and impatiens, setting them along a white banister — which Tufts said came from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second inauguration — that once formed the garden’s wall.
The detectives were nervous about how Tufts would react to the landscaping. Before work started, she gave them a hand-written list of the animals on her property — and a warning not to disturb any of them. She objected when she thought some bushes were trimmed too heavily. When most of the work was done, Irons stood beneath the window assessing the planters lining the garden.
“I’m thinking this is beautiful,” Irons said, standing up against the window where Tufts looks out. “I’m hoping she’s in awe when she looks.”
Afterward, as Tufts gazed out the window at the now cleared garden lined with planters, she seemed to give her approval: “Oh, it’s just marvelous,” she said.
The detectives filled her bird feeder and left, promising to return to keep the plants watered.
New York City NY Aug 1 2011 A former NYPD officer was killed – shot in the back – after a dispute over a curbside dice game in Jamaica, Queens.
Colin Bowlin, 28, had been rolling dice on Sutphin Blvd. near 113th Ave. about 4 a.m. yesterday, when an argument broke out over money, said a police source.
Bowlin left the game and was walking away when he was shot once in the lower back, police said.
His cousin, who was with him at the time, loaded him into a car and rushed him to North Shore University Hospital in Rego Park, where he died a short time later, said police.
“The guy fired and hit him in the back,” said Bowlin’s brother, Mark, 33, calling the shooter a coward.
“If he was such a brave guy, why not fight him? If he was man enough to pull the trigger, he’s man enough to take responsibility for it,” he said, urging the shooter to surrender.
Bowlin, who lived in Hollis, joined the NYPD in 2005, when he was 22 years old and worked in the 101st Precinct in Far Rockaway, his brother said.
Bowlin resigned from the NYPD in 2008, said police.
He had been working as a security guard for an armored courier service, family said.
Police yesterday were still hunting for the shooter.Clare Trapasso.
Killeeen TX Aug 1 2011 Two men accused of injuring three people during a Sunday morning shooting at a local Subway restaurant have been identified.
According to arrest affidavits made public Tuesday, Michael Anthony Lee, 21, and Trevarrus Cortez Graves, 18, both of Killeen, have been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on a security officer. Both remain in custody with bonds set at $100,000.
Killeen police arrested Lee and Graves after they were pulled over in a vehicle matching the description of a car seen leaving the scene of a shooting at the Subway restaurant in the 1200 block of Lowes Boulevard.
Graves, Lee and two unidentified females were detained at the scene. The women were cited for misdemeanors and later released, according to Killeen Police Department spokeswoman Carroll Smith.
Police found two handguns inside the silver Pontiac an officer saw leaving the scene of the shooting.
According to a security guard working near the Subway, an altercation began at the Subway between several individuals about 3:15 a.m. Sunday.
The officer attempted to intervene and was forced to pepper spray one individual.
Four people got into a silver Pontiac, and as they drove away, four to six shots were fired out the window of the car. One shot hit the security officer in the leg.
All three individuals hit in the shooting were treated for non-life threatening injuries. They have been released from local hospitals.
While being interviewed by police, Graves admitted to firing one round from the vehicle. He told police he fired the shot and then handed the gun to Lee.
Witnesses reported hearing several shots in rapid succession.
Jasper AL Aug 1 2011
Now, the wrestler, boxer and mixed-martial artist is making another bid for the spotlight via busting crime.
“Big Law: Deputy Butterbean,” debuting at 9 p.m. August 9 on Investigation Discovery, documents Esch’s efforts as a reserve deputy for the Walker County (Alabama) Sheriff’s Office.
Like the star of “Steven Segal Lawman,” Esch didn’t don a badge and gun belt just for the cameras.
“I’d been working with them for a while before they even started the show,” Esch said Friday (July 29) during the Summer TV Tour.
“He’s been a reserve for several years with the sheriff’s department, and so he’s been helping us for way before the show came out,” added Deputy Adam Hadder, Esch’s partner in the WCSO vice unit. “And it was just kind of natural and they wanted to film him going with us, and so it worked out really well. Bean’s a big help to us.”
Esch said his motivation for serving is rooted in his roots.
“I did this because it’s my hometown,” he said, of Jasper, Ala., Walker County’s center city. “I live there. I have kids that have to grow up. I have grandkids there. I have one grandkid that’s here and I have two on the way. The reason I started helping Adam in the drug unit is because I want to make it a better place, get rid of a lot of the drugs. I mean, it’s no worse than anywhere else. We have drugs just like anywhere else in the U.S. But if I can make a little bit of change in the town that I live in, OK. I’m being a little selfish. I want a better place than everybody else has and I’m proud to help out. A lot of the other reality shows, they’re just doing it just to be on TV. I did it before the TV. I did it because I care about my town.”
And, no — really, no — the series was in no way inspired by “Lawman,” in which Steven Segal rolled on calls with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office while A&E’s reality-TV cameras rolled.
For a while.
“Not at all,” said producer Lorri Leighton. “Our production company, Atlas Media, just loved Butterbean and thought he’d got an incredibly compelling character. I mean, look at him. And we went and spent some time with him and decided we wanted to do a show about him.”
“Butterbean’s much better than Segal,” said Hadder.
“And cuter, by the way,” added Esch.
TAMPA Fla Aug 1 2011 — A security breach at Tampa International Airport allowed a passenger with a knife in his carry-on bag to board a plane Sunday before police arrested him, according to airport spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan.
Around 6:45 a.m., Transportation Security Administration personnel noticed the knife during a security screening and alerted airport police, Geoghagan said.
But when officers searched the bag, they did not find the knife. They discovered they had detained the wrong passenger.
A review of video provided a description of the passenger traveling with the concealed weapon, and TSA shut down security screenings at the terminal around 7:15 a.m.
TSA and airport police located a passenger matching the description aboard an American Airlines flight that was set to depart for Miami, Geoghagan said. A search of his carry-on bag revealed the knife.
Philippe Francois Martinez, 43, of Clearwater was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed weapon, Geoghagan said.
“This was a very unintentional incident,” she said. A description of the knife was not available.
Martinez was going to travel on to San Juan, Puerto Rico from Miami, Geoghagan said.
The incident caused a 10-minute delay in the American Airlines flight. Two US Airways flights were also delayed because of the incident, according to Geoghagan, one by 15 minutes and the other by 40 minutes.
TSA resumed normal screening operations around 7:30 a.m.
Knives are not permitted in carry-on luggage, according to the TSA website, except for plastic or butter knives. Other types of knives may travel in checked baggage.
Source:st petersburg times
About 5 p.m., security at the Horseshoe Casino noticed a man slipping jewelry from their stores into his pockets, Bossier City spokesman Mark Natale said. When security confronted him about an hour later, Natale said he walked away and out of the casino.
Bossier City police found the man in a wooded area near the Interstate 20 overpass and confronted him, Natale said. He then jumped into the river in an attempt to escape, Natale said.
The man didn’t make it far and swam back to the Bossier City bank and said he’d hurt himself and couldn’t get out, Natale said. He was eventually hauled out and transported to WK Bossier Health Center for treatment, Natale said
Wayne County MI Aug 1 2011 Breaking with a 1996 landmark decision, a sharply divided Michigan Supreme Court said that Wayne County and its sheriff’s office can’t be sued by a woman who was raped by a deputy at the county jail.
The four-justice majority said that the jailor was acting outside his official duties, thus the county and sheriff’s office could not be held liable because his conduct could not be foreseen.
The 34-page decision upended a unanimous 1996 state Supreme Court opinion that the employer was responsible in such cases. The four justices — Robert Young Jr., Mary Beth Kelly, Brian Zahra and Stephen Markman — said the early decision was wrong and unworkable because it lacks hard guidelines and forces judges and juries to reach decisions “according to their subjective whims.”
The case revolves around the 2001 rape of a female prisoner by Deputy Reginald Johnson. The woman was arrested in Livingston County for unpaid child support and transferred to Wayne County for probation violation.
Johnson was on duty alone and made sexually charged comments to the woman, offering her better treatment in exchange for sex. She refused, but he later took the woman to an area not covered by security cameras and assaulted her.
Johnson later was convicted of criminal sexual conduct.
Employment rights attorney Deborah Gordon said the decision is turning the protection of victims on its head.
“When someone uses their authority over you to force sexual favors, the employer was responsible for its superiors,” Gordon said. “This court decision removes that responsibility of an employer or government agency for the acts of its supervisors.”
In a 25-page dissent, Justices Michael Cavanagh and Marilyn Kelly said an attack was foreseeable because the jail’s policy requires female officers to be present anytime a female prisoner was in the jail. They also said the guard used his official authority over the woman to rape her.
Also dissenting was Justice Diane Hathaway, who said that the new ruling undermines the Michigan Civil Rights Act and topples a well-established decision that protected victims’ rights.
Lexington KY Aug 1 2011 A security guard stumbles across a body in the bushes outside a Lexington business, soon finding out it’s all the result of a deadly motorcycle crash.
It happened early Saturday morning outside the entrance to Lexmark on Russell Cave Road.
Police say the driver of the motorcycle, Kevin Allen of Lexington, was pronounced dead at the scene. “When we got here, there was nothing we could do,” says Lt. Edward Hart with the Lexington Police Department. Police say Allen lost control around 2:30 in the morning, hitting a tree then a utility pole and was thrown from the bike.
“We don’t know if he was unfamiliar with this curve or just misjudged it because of time of day,” says Lt. Hart. “There was a helmet lying next to the victim, but it does not appear that he was wearing it. The most serious injury to the victim is a head injury.”
A Lexmark employee noticed the bike in the road and notified a security guard.
“The way he’s positioned, he’s actually in some bushes,” says Lt. Hart. “So it would’ve been pretty hard for someone just walking down Russell Cave Road to see him.”
Officers say if it hadn’t been for that employee, Allen could have been there all weekend.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation. Police do say they believe speed and alcohol were both contributing factors.
The Fayette County Coroner says Allen was 49 years old.
The Post and Courier of Charleston reported Saturday that 46-year-old Dale Richardson, of Summerville, is charged in North Charleston with kidnapping and possession of a firearm during a violent crime.
Police records said Richardson offered the victim a ride, but then pointed a gun at her, put a pillowcase over her head and bound her hands.
A report accuses him of forcing her to have sex in a Dorchester County home. Charges are pending in that county.
Richardson said he has a spotless record and will put up a strong defense.
He is the minister of Freedom Free Will Baptist Church in Ladson and manager of a construction company.
His bail was set at $525,000.
STANTON CA Aug 1 2011 – Two juvenile boys were shot in the legs early Saturday morning while leaving a party.
Several people were leaving the party at 2:26 a.m. in the 10800 block of Oak Street, Sheriff’s Lt. Jim England said.
A dark-colored sedan drove by, and someone fired several shots, England said.
Two injured boys were taken to a hospital. Their injuries are not life-threatening, England said.
The shooting is possibly gang-related and officials are investigating, England said.
Anyone with information is asked to call 714-647-7000.
In an unrelated incident, three people shot at security officers outside an Anaheim nightclub about 2:35 a.m., police said.
Authorities said three men in their 20s, wearing dark clothes, fired four shots at security officers outside Mexico de Noche, 10560 Magnolia Ave., Anaheim.
The officers had been standing in front of the club after it closed.
The building was hit but one was injured, England said. The men fled on foot, he said.
Pensacola Fla Aug 1 2011 Following his arrest on charges of indecent exposure and lewd and lascivious behavior, the principal of Avalon Middle School has been reassigned to an administrative position in the Santa Rosa County School District.
Steven McHenry, 39, was arrested by Pensacola police on Thursday on the misdemeanor charges. He was booked into the Escambia County Jail shortly before 10 p.m. Thursday and was released after posting a $1,000 bond.
Details of McHenry’s arrest were not available Saturday night.
Santa Rosa Schools Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said McHenry, who was about to begin his second year as principal, now is assigned to a job in which he will not have any contact with students and teachers.
“Santa Rosa County schools will continue to investigate the matter of his arrest and act appropriately,” Wyrosdick said Saturday night. “It’s important to let parents know we have been working on this now for a little more than 24 hours, and we have communicated clearly with our School Board.”
Wyrosdick would not say if someone has been selected to be the school’s principal.
“We are moving forward with providing leadership for that school,” he said. “I will be meeting with faculty and staff Monday morning.”
In June 2010, Wyrosdick announced McHenry would take over the middle school, succeeding Ermma Fillingim, who retired. His principal’s salary was $76,000.
In August 2007, he was appointed assistant principal at the school. He had been an administrative intern and was a social studies teacher at Gulf Breeze High School, where he served as girls basketball coach and girls volleyball coach.
Wyrosdick said a teacher’s arrest must be reported to the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Professional Practices. The office will determine whether McHenry will be able to keep his teaching certificate.
“The process of the action for his certificate is a lengthy one,” Wyrosdick said. “It requires an investigation and is normally a year to two-year process.”
Avalon Middle Parent Teacher Organization President Amy Spencer declined to comment after hearing about McHenry’s arrest.
DOTHAN, Alabama Aug 1 2011 – Dothan Police Chief Gregory J. Benton this afternoon issued a press release saying an officer apparently shot her own son on Saturday.
The officer acted in self-defense, although the investigation is at “the earliest stage.”
The son was being treated in a local hospital for moderate injuries.
The text of the press release:
On July 30, 2011 the Dothan Police Department responded to a firearm assault on Third Avenue.
Police responded to the residence of a Dothan Police Officer who was involved in the shooting.
The investigation into this shooting is in the earliest stage however a preliminary investigation has revealed there was a documented history of domestic violence in the home between the officer and the officers’ adult son.
Investigators have learned the involved parties have had limited contact following a documented domestic situation which occurred earlier this month. The shooting which occurred today appears to involve self defense on behalf of the officer involved.
The suspect was transported to a local hospital where he is receiving treatment for a moderate injury.
Police have not released names of involved parties at this time.
“It looks like they’re happening on the weekend in the night in most cases its forced entry,” says Wayne Ogino, Campus Security Chief.
For the first time, the Sodexo offices at the Stan Sheriff Center and Les Murakami stadium were burglarized.
A total of $12,000 dollars was stolen.
“This one is a little bit unusual because there were different incidents in the same location and very risky for the burglar but they seem to be determined to go after particular targets,” says Ogino.
Vendors beefed up security by installing surveillance cameras and alarms.
“At the moment I think a the incidences are not related there’s no one group or individual that’s committing all of the burglaries, but it does look like the perpetrator have inside knowledge of where cash is located and what the procedures are ” says Ogino.
Vendors are now depositing their money more frequently.
UH campus security and the Honolulu Police department are investigating and have leads and persons of interest.
“We’re also looking into possibilities that they may be either a former employees or acquaintances of former employees that may be involved,” says Ogino.
UH campus security stepped up their patrols on campus hoping to prevent more burglaries.
“They seem to have subsided since june but we’re going to have school opening soon so they’ll be a lot of people around. We do advise the students to be careful and report any kind of suspicious activity as far as these incidences are concerned pretty low risk for the campus population because they’re happening after business hours when people are normally not around,” says Ogino.”
If you have any information about the burglaries, call police.
Tampa resident Tyrell Sidney Bragg, 21, has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of 18-year-old Iesha D. Washington, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said.
Police responded to a 911 report of gunfire at a rented hall in Riverview, Fla. — about 15 miles (24 kilometers) southeast of Tampa — at about 12:30am local time Saturday.
When deputies arrived on the scene, they found more than 100 people running around outside the hall, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Det. Larry McKinnon said. It was estimated that up to 400 people had attended the gathering.
Deputies found Washington dead from at least one gunshot wound. A male victim, identified as 22-year-old Craig A. Thompson, was also found suffering from at least one gunshot wound. He was taken to a local hospital, where he died shortly afterward.
Police recovered a .380-caliber handgun they believe was used to shoot Washington, but shell casings of a different caliber were also found at the scene, leading them to believe a second shooter using a different gun killed Thompson.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said Bragg started shooting after he was told by security personnel to leave the party. Bragg claimed he was at the party but did not have a gun and fled the scene when he heard gunshots.
Two witnesses identified Bragg as the person who shot Washington. A third witness said Bragg claimed to have killed someone at the party and asked the witness to hide the .380-caliber gun. The witness turned the gun over to police.
Bragg is being held in jail with no bond.
BATON ROUGE, LA Aug 1 2011(AP) – Louisiana state police say an 8-year-old boy was driving a pickup truck down an interstate while his drunken father slept in the passenger seat.
Troopers say the man’s 4-year-old daughter was in the back seat when the truck was stopped Saturday morning in Livingston Parish.
The child’s driving was so erratic that it alarmed motorists, who called authorities. The children have been handed over to Louisiana Child Protective Services.
The father, 28-year-old Billy Joe Madden of Hattiesburg, Miss., was booked into the Livingston Parish Jail on charges including Child Desertion and Allowing a Minor to Drive. It was not clear Saturday afternoon if he had an attorney.
Atlanta GA Aug 1 2011 Last year, the Georgia State Patrol held 9,800 roadblocks across the state, an average of 26 a day, with about 37,000 man-hours invested in the checkpoints.
In comparison, the Tennessee Highway Patrol held 563 roadblocks, an average of fewer than two a day. The Alabama Highway Patrol more than tripled in the last five years the number of roadblocks it holds, and it fell between Tennessee and Georgia with 2,487 roadblocks in 2010.
In addition to roadblocks held by state police, local law enforcement agencies in Georgia reported holding 9,423 roadblocks to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety under a voluntary reporting system. About two-thirds of local agencies reported their numbers.
Altogether, Georgia law enforcement agencies reported holding more than 80,000 roadblocks over the last four years.
Some people call Georgia’s roadblock numbers shocking, a violation of individual rights that cannot be justified by the need to check for driving violations or drunken drivers.
Law enforcement officials say the roadblocks are part of the state’s successful highway safety program. The proof can be shown by the decrease in traffic fatalities, dropping from 1,729 fatalities in 2005 to 1,284 in 2009, they say.
“What we’ve found is that checkpoints are an effective tool to raise public awareness, to deter impaired drivers,” said Spencer Moore, deputy director for the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “With these checkpoints, we believe the numbers will continue to go in the right direction. Because, for our office, one fatality is one too many.”
But Gary Biller, executive director of the National Motorists Association, which was founded to represent the rights of motorists, said the numbers are alarming and that police roadblocks do not lessen fatalities. Research has shown that most arrests for driving under the influence are made by patrolling officers, not those in roadblocks, he said.
“Even from a common-sense standpoint, it is a very high number,” said Biller, whose organization contends that most roadblocks violate the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment governing unlawful search and seizure. “With that many roadblocks, law enforcement is casting a very wide net. They are generating a reason to find probable cause.”
REDUCING FATALITIESProponents of roadblocks cite the drop in traffic fatalities over the last decade as justification for them. But statistics do not show a clear correlation between more roadblocks and lower fatality rates.
It is true that Tennessee has a slightly higher crash-fatality rate than Georgia, but only slightly. In 2009, the most recent numbers available, Tennessee had a little more than 15 vehicular accident deaths per 100,000 residents, while Georgia had about 13. Both states had significant drops in traffic fatalities over the past five years, although both still rank higher than the national average.
In Georgia, about 26 percent of those deaths in 2009 were linked to impaired driving, while about 31 percent of Tennessee traffic fatalities involved crashes linked to alcohol impairment.
Alabama, whose state roadblock numbers fall between those of Georgia and Tennessee, had a higher number of fatalities overall and of DUI related-fatalities than either neighboring state. In 2009, the state had 18 crash fatalities per 100,000 residents, with 33 percent of those linked to impaired driving.
However, states such as Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Texas, which are among a dozen that prohibit roadblocks under a state constitution or by some other means, had lower fatality rates than all three states.
STATE DIFFERENCESGeorgia and Tennessee have slightly different state Supreme Court rulings regulating how roadblocks are held, with Tennessee having more stringent requirements. That difference is likely the main reason the states have such disparate numbers, according to Richard Holt, law enforcement administrator with the Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office.
Tennessee requires public notice be given in advance of when and where a roadblock will be held. The notice must be printed in the local newspaper and announced on local radio stations. Georgia does not require advance notice, but the roadblock must be approved by a supervisor in the agency involved.
“It requires a little more planning on our part, and that is probably why we don’t have as many,” Holt said. “But I also think it is a fair way; it is something that is planned and not just set up ad hoc.”
Holt said the requirements may be a double-edged sword. They limit the number of roadblocks, but public notices increase publicity and awareness about sobriety checkpoints. Sometimes officials will announce several roadblocks but end up holding only one because of manpower constraints or other reasons, he said. Nevertheless, the public notice even for roadblocks not held is a deterrent, he said.
Overall, he said he thinks the limitations placed on law officers regarding roadblocks are a good thing and have not lessened their ability to reduce crashes and fatalities.
Instead of roadblocks, Tennessee law enforcement agencies hold saturation patrols, Holt said. In such patrols, officers drive around areas that have a high number of DUI incidents or crashes and pull over drivers who are driving unsafely or illegally.
“In our case, we have found them to be more effective than roadblocks,” Holt said.
Capt. David McGill, who heads the Tennessee Highway Patrol in the Chattanooga area, said his agency is not given specific guidelines on how many roadblocks to conduct. Each district captain makes those decisions based on manpower available and data on crash and DUI statistics, he said.
But a roadblock must be approved by department heads in Nashville before it is held, McGill said. The agency also provides the information to local media and the local district attorney, he said.
In addition, all officers participating in the roadblock are read the highway patrol’s general order for conducting a roadblock before they begin, McGill said, and, under that general order, at least four officers must conduct the roadblock and it must be held a maximum of two hours. The agency also videotapes roadblocks.
“I would say we provide a good amount of checkpoints here in the Chattanooga district,” McGill said. “It is a good public relations tool and a way to interact with our communities.”
Lt. Paul Cosper, spokesman for the Georgia State Patrol, and Moore, with the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, also cited statistics to show that, even though Georgia holds vastly more roadblocks, they are effective and a good use of personnel.
“When they hold a checkpoint, officers hand out tickets for a lot of different kinds of violations,” Cosper said. “It may range from DUI to having bald tires; all things that pose a danger to safety.”
Under Georgia case law, the decision to implement the roadblock must be made by supervisory personnel rather than officers in the field, and all vehicles are stopped as opposed to random vehicle stops. In addition, the delay for motorists is minimal, the roadblock operation is well identified as a police checkpoint and officers must be properly trained.
“These checkpoints are being held all over the state,” Moore said. “It is very effective in deterring other types of crime as well; it is very good for overall public safety.”
LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENTThe Georgia State Patrol is not the only agency conducting many roadblocks a year; even small Georgia law enforcement agencies hold dozens.
Varnell in Whitfield County, with a population of about 1,600 and a police force of seven listed on the town’s website, reported holding 40 roadblocks last year. Officers made 32 DUI arrests in 2010, according to numbers reported to the state.
Numbers of roadblocks held vary widely from county to county and from year to year. In general, the number of roadblocks does not seem to increase the number of DUI arrests. All arrest numbers reported are total DUIs, not just those made at roadblocks.
For example, the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office reported 111 roadblocks in 2007, a year in which it charged 194 people with DUI. In 2009, the agency held 29 roadblocks but charged 236 people with DUI.
The Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office reported 59 roadblocks in 2010, with 153 DUI arrests. In 2009, it held 86 roadblocks and made 126 DUI arrests.
Tennessee does not track local law enforcement roadblocks, so numbers were not available. Several local law enforcement agencies, including the Chattanooga Police Department, the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office and the Cleveland Police Department, said they generally hold roadblocks only in conjunction with the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Law enforcement officials in Georgia have said their roadblocks are held under federal and state guidelines for traffic safety.
But some Georgia lawyers said having so many roadblocks so frequently raises questions about why the roadblocks are held and whether they may violate U.S. Supreme Court Fourth Amendment rulings.
Atlanta attorney Charles Kuck called the Georgia numbers “shocking.” As an immigration lawyer, he sees many illegal immigrants arrested in roadblocks and held for possible deportation, he said.
“It raises questions about the real reason they are holding these roadblocks,” he said.
EFFECTIVENESS QUESTIONSNational highway safety and insurance groups agree with Georgia’s stance on roadblocks, but other groups say the state risks violating citizens’ rights.
“It’s about frequency and visibility,” said Russ Rader, with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit organization that promotes highway safety. “Research shows sobriety checkpoints are very effective as a deterrent to drinking and driving. The key thing about checkpoints is that they create an atmosphere where people are aware of the dangers.”
Judie Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, took her affirmation a step further.
“Ten thousand checkpoints are going to be more effective than the fewer numbers,” Stone said. “If you do it only sporadically, people are going to be able to get away with impaired driving. They are not perfect, but the number of traffic fatalities [has] gone way down with increased awareness and checkpoints.”
Biller disagreed. His organization supports safe driving and programs to reduce traffic fatalities and DUIs, he said, but the numbers do not show that roadblocks help lower fatality rates.
He cited one study done recently in California that shows only 2.3 percent of DUI arrests in the state were made at roadblocks.
“Police patrols are much more effective as opposed to stopping everyone,” he said. “They are inconveniencing a large number of drivers to find that one driver.”
Most states receive federal funding for roadblocks and other highway safety programs, administered through the Governors Highway Safety Association. Funding for the Alcohol-Impaired Driving Countermeasure Incentive Grant, which requires states to use half the grant for sobriety checkpoints or saturation patrols, increased from $40 million in 2005 to $139 million in 2009. Over the last 10 years, Georgia has received $24.6 million in funding from that grant, while Tennessee has received $16.3 million.