Seven police officers and their chief on Saturday blocked traffic and sniffed for alcohol at a travel blockade in Soddy-Daisy under two overpasses on a dark road leading to the blinking lights of the Sequoyah nuclear plant cooling towers.
Motorists generally seemed to be in good spirits, chatting with the officers, sometimes shaking their hands. It was impossible to tell if any of them were upset about being arrested in their movements. Members of the public left at least one hot pizza as a thank you among the seven male and one female officers.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 101.1 FM
Four hundred and sixty cars and trucks passed through the blockade; no one was cited, no DUIs were find, no one was arrested, says acting chief Jeff Gann.
“Since it’s advertised,” said officer Jeremy Wright, “it’s not an intrusion on someone’s fourth amendment, the right to [be free of] unlawful searches and seizures. We make every effort to let the public know what we’re doing, and where we’re doing it at.”
Chief Gann ran the operation by the book. Which is to say, by the rules set forth in two Tennessee supreme court decisions. These allow roadblocks, which are unconstitutional on their face, but restrict them to avoid their being too damaging of innocent travelers against whom the state has no probable cause to seize or search.
It was a cold night Saturday, drizzling and sleeting, and dozens of SUVs, cars, pickups slowly passed the blockade with its chatty cops. An officer would lean toward an open window, breathing through his nose, flicking a flashlight into the rear seat, making talk such as, “We’re here to make sure everybody safe and that nobody is driving drunk. How are you?”
Many of the people had driver licenses in hand ready to show.
Limited scope of stop
Under court rules, the stop location and time cannot be decided by someone running it. So Chief Gann attended, but it was planned by Chief Phil Hamrick, who is back in town from a year’s absence in the Navy in the Mideast.
“I don’t need arrests,” the acting chief said in a text message. “They only increase problems at home and most never get away from the grip of the knockdown and financial punishment. Not to say crimes should go unpunished.”
Officer Wright said the roadblock does not offend the constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizure. “It does not. For one, we are not asking anyone for his driver’s license. No. 2, it’s been advertised thoroughly on the news and in social media, and so it’s not a violation of any fourth amendment rights.”
Officers did not ask anybody to see your driver’s license. They did not ask questions of the nosy type that sometimes they ask in order to obtain probable cause to search or stop.
High visibility, professional conduct
Warnings of the DUI checkpoint were posted at either end, according to Hicks and Downey standards.
On the upside of the hill leading down toward the underpass was a sign that let people avoid the stop. They could take a right turn into the Tractor Supply parking lot and instead drive a back-road around the blockade. Or they could go left down onto the highway.
At the lower end of the traffic stop were two signs. One warned people coming onto Sequoyah Access Road from the highway off ramp. The other was for people traveling west on Sequoyah toward Dayton Pike.
The officers wore glittering vests. They had glow lamps in their hands. Reflective cones marked the middle zone in which they stood. Several police cars and SUVs stood about, lights flashing blindingly.
The court justices express concern about roadblocks’ creating roadway hazards; the bright cones and lights help prevent there being any danger, either to officers or to drivers.
“Main thing is we’re out here just making sure no one is drinking and driving,” said Officer Ben Robbs, two years with the department. “We’re pretty much just making sure everybody’s wearing their seatbelt, and if there’s any sort of traffic infraction, at that point we might — if we suspect any suspicious activity we might dig a little bit further and making sure, you know, nobody is committing any sort of crime.”
When I said a DUI checkpoint cannot be a fishing expedition for evidence of crime, he said, “Correct. Correct,” and that officers follow the rule.
Chief Gann went to Charlie’s Lounge and a second watering hole to tell the proprietors of the night’s policing activities. “If they can’t safely make sure that person gets home, then we, the Soddy-Daisy police department, we’ll do that — we’ll provide that safe ride home,” he said.
What if the person is outside his jurisdiction? Chief Gann said he could make arrangements with other departments, or take the woozy one home in his own car.
2 days’ enforcement
The city did two roadblocks on Friday, 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Sequoyah, and 10 to midnight at the abandoned car wash on 8600 Dayton Pike, halting 459 cars, trucks and vans. No alcohol-related confrontations, though they found problems with tags and lights about which officers spoke to the person at the wheel, without anyone being cited.
Early in the evening on Saturday, Chief Gann said he smelled alcohol, but a woman was the “designated driver” and it was her husband who had been drinking.
Said officer Wright, “I don’t know of anything on the negative side, but it’s definitely a positive thing, especially around the holidays keeping all the people on the road traveling safe.”