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Village trustee: DWI checkpoints bad for business

TUPPER LAKE – A village trustee here thinks driving-while-intoxicated checkpoints are bad for business.

During last Monday’s village board meeting, village Trustee Rick Donah asked village police Chief Eric Proulx if it is customary for the state police to notify the community if they plan to do a DWI checkpoint.

Donah is also the manager of P-2’s Irish Pub.

Proulx said he is usually notified about DWI checkpoints a couple of weeks in advance, and he is invited to have his officers present. Even that, he said, is done out of courtesy, not obligation.

“The state police are their own animal, and they really don’t need to notify you or anybody else about what they do,” Proulx said.

Donah said the business community should be warned in advance about when and where state troopers are planning to set up a checkpoint.

“The reason why I say that is, as a person who runs a business and is involved in it, there’s no taxi service in Tupper Lake, and there is no secondary option for people,” Donah said. “When I have a full bar of people and I have to get in the car and drive someone home, it inconveniences my other staff and it’s a problem for me, but I’ll do it. It’s just unfortunate that our community has to be under the spotlight of the state government.”

Donah added that he doesn’t think village police doing regular patrols are the problem.

“The state troopers seem to feel that Tupper Lake is a training zone for them, the village and the town of Tupper Lake,” Donah said. “What they fail to recognize is that it affects the business community dramatically here.”

Proulx pointed out that DWI checkpoints are specifically set up to target DWI offenses, but Donah contended that restaurants, bars and motels are all negatively affected by their presence. He said those checkpoints don’t help tourism, either.

“When tourists come through town, they don’t necessarily get a welcome wagon,” Donah said. “Instead, they get, ‘Why are you coming here? What are you coming in here for? Where are you coming from?'”

Donah said there was an event at the Trail’s End bar two weeks ago, and many of P-2’s patrons headed there afterward. He said no one was arrested, but the police presence was off-putting to people passing through.

Village Mayor Paul Maroun reminded Donah that Tupper Lake is the “crossroads of the Adirondacks,” and that means people aren’t the only thing passing through town.

“We’re probably going to get more money for that shared services building down the road because drugs flow through Tupper Lake, Route 30 and 3,” Maroun said. “You can’t stop these guys from setting up road blocks, and they do it everywhere. It isn’t just Tupper.”

Sgt. Brian Goetz, the state police Troop B traffic supervisor, confirmed that the checkpoints happen throughout the region. He explained that every year the state Division of Traffic writes grants to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which allocates funds to the New York State Police for various safety programs, like DWI enforcement and seatbelt checks.

The state police then divides that money between the different troops throughout the state.

Troop B, which Goetz works for, covers five counties – Franklin, Essex, St. Lawrence, Clinton and part of Hamilton. DWI checkpoints are mandated to receive funding.

“I am mandated to perform a minimum of three sobriety checkpoints every month,” Goetz said. “On top of that, there are 12 enforcement holiday periods every year that we have to hold, that we get additional money for, that are national campaigns. One coming up is the Independence Day initiative, which NHTSA gives us extra money for because it’s a nationwide initiative.”

Goetz said he has three zones, so each trooper barracks picks one location for a checkpoint each month. Goetz said there are two goals behind the checkpoints: public awareness and enforcement. In theory, the presence of police could deter someone from driving drunk, and those who do drive drunk will be caught.

The strategy is to place checkpoints in high-traffic areas, where they’ll be most effective. He said they set up checkpoints during the Can Am Rugby weekend and Winter Carnival in Saranac Lake and during the Essex County Fair.

“It’s not us focusing on Tupper Lake,” Goetz said. “If they’re seeing them over in Tupper Lake, then it’s doing its job. If you want to go out and have a couple of drinks, fine, but if you get to the point where you can’t drive, then you shouldn’t be driving. As far as it hurting businesses there, I don’t see how what we’re doing affects that.”

Goetz said the main goal of the checkpoints is to yield no arrests, meaning everyone on the road is sober, and he says it seems to be working. He said the number of mandated checkpoints has also declined since he went into the traffic safety program in 2007.

“If we get one DWI a checkpoint, on average, for the troop, that’s a lot,” Goetz said. “We have a lot that have zero arrests for DWI or for drug impaired driving, which is good.”