Supreme Court Ruling Considered Victory For Police - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

01/14/04

Supreme Court Ruling Considered Victory For Police

The case ended up in the Illinois Supreme Court when the drunk driver argued that it wasn't an emergency for police to stop drivers and pass out leaflets asking for information about a fatal hit and run accident. The accident happened in the same spot where officers set up the roadblock. But the high court disagrees and officers say roadblocks are too valuable a tool to lose.

Coast law enforcers set up roadblocks, or checkpoints, to look for drunk drivers, expired tags and inspection stickers. They also check for valid drivers licenses and proof of insurance. Officers tell us they can be very useful. Ocean Springs Chief Kerry Belk says, "Such as if you had a hit and run and I know that was one of the cases that came outta Illinois. The hit and run, you're looking for the perpatrator of that crime. They were able to gain information and hopefully make an arrest."  "The only time we're gonna set up a roadblock is in a specific situation where a crime has just recently been comitted or we're investigating a crime that could've happened," says Harrison County Deputy Windy Swetman.

 There has to be a specific reason for stopping drivers.  Officers just can't do it on a whim. Chief Belk says sometimes the public determines that roadblocks are needed. "Roadblocks set up for speeding, for instance. We set those up because it's complaints generated by the public. They let us know there's an area where there's a lot of speeding and we'll go out and set up a roadblock," says Chief Belk.

 Officers say the need for safety outweighs any argument that roadblocks violate drivers' privacy and all stops are made by the book.  Belk says, "Our job is to make sure the public and those streets are safe and using a roadblock as a tool I think that's something that every citizen would be happy to put up with."  "We have rules and regulations of course that we follow and we're gonna make sure we maintain our professionalism in following those policies and of course in the end that's gonna be our defense, is that we do it by the book each and every time," says Swetman.

 From a legal defense standpoint, Biloxi attorney Fred Lusk says roadblocks are a way police can circumvent the right of free travel. Lusk says roadblocks are valid in getting drunk drivers off the street, but sometimes Lusk says officers use other excuses to stop cars.  The Supreme Court ruling is considered a victory for Illinois and 14 other states that had asked the court to clarify how far police could go to get information about crimes.

Marcia Hill

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