Knox County Sheriff’s Office clarifies purpose of impending safety checkpoints
ROCKLAND — On July 3, Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison circulated a press release concerning its annual heads-up to drivers about pending safety checkpoints/roadblocks. The Sheriff’s Office has conducted the roadblocks for many years, and Chief Deputy Tim Carroll said July 5 that nothing has changed with the intent. The checkpoints, he said, serve as a deterrent to the unsafe operation of vehicles, as well as keeping unsafe vehicles off the road.
There has never been, and are no plans now, to ask about immigration or citizen status, he said.
Carroll is aware of the public reaction to the press release, especially given the national climate, with immigration enforcement actions and tensions between the public and law enforcement. But he firmly said the purpose of the Knox County checkpoints is “all about safety on the roads.”
The funding for the program comes from the Bureau of Highway Safety and pays for deputies to conduct the checkpoints.
“Checkpoints serve several purposes such as detecting impaired drivers, getting unsafe motor vehicles off the roadway, ensuring passengers are complying occupant safety laws and limiting the public’s access to unsafe areas,” the release said.
In 2016, the Sheriff’s deputies conducted a safety roadblock on Route 17 by Chickawaukie Lake in early August. Of the more than 500 vehicles checked that evening, the majority was in compliance, Carroll said that year.
That 2016 summer evening the Sheriff’s Office cited the following:
OWL – 1 ( Operating without a license)
OAS - 1 (Operating After License Suspended)
Ill. transportation of liquor by a Juvenile - 1
Poss. of Marijuana - 3
Seat belt - 1
Expired Registration - 1
Failure to produce Certificate of Insurance - 1
Expired Inspection Sticker - 9
“Nothing has changed,” said Carroll, on July 5, two years later. “We’re hoping we get compliance.”
The largest number of complaints the sheriff’s office receives, he said, concern speeding and erratic driving. The goal is deterrence, he said.
“What does everybody do when they see a police car,” he said. “They slow down.”
At the roadblocks, Carroll said he walks around the vehicle, looking fore broken lights, as well as expired registrations and inspections stickers. He looks inside for properly installed baby seats and booster seats. He asks for licenses, registration, and proof of insurance.
Formerly, the roadblocks were referred to as sobriety checkpoints, or OUI roadblocks, but evolved to include safety issues.
That includes checking for necklaces and placards, or other obstructions, dangling from the rear view mirror, which are considered unsafe for drivers.
“There is nothing new with what we’ve done,” said Carroll.
The notice of the 2018 roadblocks, however, produced a response from Rockland Mayor Valli Geiger, who wrote in a July 5 email to Knox County Commissioner Carol Maines that she was concerned about the checkpoints and their purpose.
She said in her email that she had heard from concerned citizens, and that the press release as circulated by the Sheriff’s Office raised questions about the purpose of the stops.
In a phone conversation later in the day July 5, Geiger said that citizens had contacted her expressing concern about what the checkpoints meant, and would they be related to the recent border patrol stops along I95 in Maine.
She wrote to the county commissioners this morning, and copied her fellow Rockland councilors.
“Is this an attempt to identify, harass and detain immigrants?” she wrote.
She requested more information from the sheriff’s office, going through the county commissioners, who oversee county government.
“These are fraught times,” said Geiger, adding that there is heightened tension and fear.
She said she had enormous respect for Deputy Chief Carroll, but was disappointed how the notice of the pending checkpoints had been released by the sheriff’s office.
Meanwhile, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, through Carroll, said he is confident in the level of trust that the people of Knox County have of all the local law enforcement in Knox County.