North Huntingdon commissioners reject plan for stationary DUI checkpoints

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North Huntingdon commissioners rejected a plan to begin stationary DUI checkpoints in the township.

Commissioners voted 6-to-1 last week to "cease and desist" attempts to get a grant to start the checkpoints after four residents spoke against them. In addition, a number of people in the audience indicated opposition.

Resident Thomas Krause said such checkpoints are an inefficient means of catching drunken drivers.

Police arrest only one-third of 1 percent of drivers stopped at stationary checkpoints, he said. An analysis found that less than 1 percent of the more than 181,000 drivers stopped at Pennsylvania checkpoints in 2007 were arrested, he said.

Mr. Krause said 258 stationary DUI checkpoints conducted in West Virginia yielded only 3.2 percent of the state's DUI arrests. The remainder, or 96.8 percent, of the state's 5,900 DUI arrests were accomplished by other means, he said. He did not name the analysis.

Saturation patrols, in which officers pull over people who are driving erratically to check for excessive drinking, are more efficient in catching drunken drivers, he said.

Patrick Lengel, another resident who spoke, said stationary DUI stops violate citizens' Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable search and seizure.

"Without [the Fourth Amendment], we would have tyranny," he said. "I don't think violating our civil rights is going to bring us the safety we think we'll get."

Chairman Lee Moffatt said during the Labor Day weekend, he, his wife and four children were pulled over at Cook's Forest at 5 p.m. for what police called a "regulatory checkpoint," and he was asked for his license, registration and insurance. He said was not happy about the stop.

At last Wednesday's meeting, Commissioner Rich Gray said he received 49 emails opposing checkpoints in response to an email he sent out.

At the Aug.15 commissioners' meeting, Police Chief Andrew Lisiecki noted that in 2011, there were 28 DUI-related crashes in the township. From January to the end of June this year, there were 22 crashes involving alcohol, he said.

Chief Lisiecki suggested the township apply for a grant to pay for checkpoints. During such checkpoints, police pull over most or all drivers on selected highways looking for people driving under the influence of alcohol.

In August, commissioners Donald Austin, Zach Haigis, Dave Herold and Tony Martino voted to apply for the grant, and commissioners Rich Gray and Brian West voted against it. Commissioner Lee Moffatt was absent.

Last Wednesday, commissioners Gray, Haigis, Martino, Moffatt and West voted to cease application for the grant, with Mr. Austin dissenting.

In other business:

• Chief Lisiecki said he would like the township dispatch center to begin dispatching local fire departments. He said most people call the township's center rather than Westmoreland County 911, and he feels response time can be delayed when fire companies are called first through the North Huntingdon center and fire calls are relayed to 911.

Mr. Gray and Mr. Haigis said they disagree that most emergency calls in the township go to the township. Mr. Gray said he was present for the previous discussion when township firefighters began to be dispatched by 911 rather than the township. He said the firefighters were eager to switch to being dispatched through the 911 center, and that the former police chief was glad to get rid of fire calls.

Mr. Haigis said the Westmoreland County 911 Center has the technology to pinpoint a cell call within one-eighth of a mile. The township center has a mishmash of Caller ID boxes wired together, a township official said.

Mr. Gray said Chief Lisiecki shouldn't build up the township dispatch center, since it is essentially a duplicate service that performs the same function as the county.

"I think spending over a half million dollars on a township service is not using our common sense," Mr. Haigis said.

Mr. Lisiecki said he would also like for township dispatchers to be able to give medical instructions, such as CPR, to callers. He will ask the Rescue 8 supervisor to approve the medical information dispatchers should give callers.

• Commissioners voted 4-to-3 to hire Nicholas Janosek as an additional dispatcher at $19 per hour. Commissioners Austin, Herold, Martino and West voted for the hiring, and commissioners Gray, Haigis and Moffatt voted against it.

neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

Anne Cloonan, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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